At the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where one of the units is being established, the staff has been practicing treating fake patients who have been sprayed at random with the peppery sauce as a stand-in for Ebola virus-laden fluids. Doctors and nurses practice dressing and undressing in their protective gear to avoid contamination, but if they feel the tingle of Tabasco on their skin, they know they’ve been contaminated.
“In a way, it gives feedback immediately,” said Dr. Bruce Meyer, an executive vice president at the hospital, giving credit to the hospital’s director of infection prevention, Doramarie Arocha, for the idea.
Tabasco sauce is made by Louisiana-based McIlhenny Co. from red peppers called Capsicum frutescens, which are made spicy by the chemical capsaicin. When skin comes in contact with this chemical, the brain’s pain and temperature receptors get activated at the same time, causing that tingly, hot feeling. The hot pepper chemical has also been used in other medical settings, including dermatology and neurology for pain and itch relief.