Ebola Control: Containing the Contagion

Ebola Control: Containing the ContagionAccording to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of Ebola cases in West Africa will surpass 9000, while mortality rates surge above 70 percent. Closer-to-home cases are few and far between but of increasing concern to government authorities, prompting the creation of rapid-response teams that can be at any hospital site in the country within hours. This outside assistance is only activated once Ebola-like symptoms have been identified, however — how can healthcare agencies help limit exposure and control infection day-to-day?

Public Perception

Part of the problem with Ebola is perception. While the West African outbreak is the worst ever recorded, MarketWatch notes that skewed media coverage of the event has led to a heightened sense of fear among many Americans, especially as the story of the country’s first Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan was dissected and examined from every angle.

For average Americans the risk of contracting this disease is low, since it only spreads through direct contact with the blood of bodily fluid of someone infected or who recently died from the disease. In modern medical facilities with sterile equipment practices, this kind of patient-to-patient contamination is unlikely. Healthcare workers, meanwhile, face an uphill battle — both in controlling non-Ebola patient fears and running the risk of accidental exposure.

High Risk

Frontline health workers are at the highest risk for infection. Nurse Nina Pham, who visited Thomas Eric Duncan several times in his hospital room before he died, was diagnosed with the illness shortly after his death. While she’s now listed as “in good condition,” it’s a sober reminder for every health provider that staff aren’t immune.

Another major part of the problem is Ebola’s transmission method. Hospital staff come into regular contact with bodily fluids and blood, and if gloves fail or uniforms are soaked through, a single exposure can mean contamination. To address this issue, the CDC has released an interim guideline to control the spread of Ebola in hospitals. It includes recommendations such as having janitorial staff wear personal protective equipment (PPE) including disposable gloves, a gown, eye protection and facemask if there’s any risk of exposure to an Ebola-like disease.

In addition, the guideline specifies the use of an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant that has label claims for non-enveloped viruses to help disinfect surfaces. In addition, hospitals must avoid contamination of any porous surfaces — mattress pads or pillows, for example — that are typically reusable. Ideally, healthcare facilities should use plastic or other coverings to prevent the transmission of Ebola but if this is not possible, linens must be safely discarded and destroyed.

Safety First

There are no Ebola-specific disinfectants or guarantees that PPE will not fail at a critical moment, but risks to hospital staff and other patients can be significantly lowered by following CDC guidelines, implementing a rigorous disinfectant protocol and taking charge of Ebola-related hospital messaging.

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