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Hospital Bioterrorism Unit Serves as a Tuberculosis Ward

08/21/2012 -A hi-tech renovation at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center was added to the emergency room to help respond to biological attacks. The$53-million containment unit can hold up to 30 patients. A pressure controlled air circulation system reduces the spread of airborne disease and a UV light eradicates germs in air leaving the ward.

In the last year the ward has seen 68 cases. But none of them have been victims of a terrorist attack. The threat is more immediate.

The Los Angeles County ward is used to treat severe cases of tuberculosis (TB). The resurgence of certain strains of the illness, including drug resistant TB, has brought the life of Olive View, a former TB sanitarium, full circle.

Olive View tuberculosis cases are the worst of the worst. "Something that the average physician would only see maybe once in a lifetime, we see kind of routinely here," Glenn Mathisen, director of the infectious diseases department told the Los Angeles Times.

The facility opened in 1920 in Sylmar as the TB sanatorium for Los Angeles County. Once TB could be cured, the number of patients dropped and it was repurposed as an acute care hospital. In 1971,the facility was destroyed in an earthquake. It was rebuilt and reopened in 1987.

The biological attack unit was part of a new 31,000 square-foot emergency room which opened last year.

It was planned to have a ward to treat patients after bioterrorism incidents or a large infectious disease outbreak, said Michael Wilson, spokesperson for the county's Department of Health Services by phone Tuesday.

An additional 10,000 square feet wasdevoted to patients with infectious diseases.

Read the Los Angeles Times feature on how the unit is used for TB patientshere.