December 10, 2014

Ebola and Hospital Safety

Starting in March of this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported an outbreak of Ebola in Guinea. News coverage of the virus has been widespread and thorough, and although incidents reported in the United States are minimal and controlled (and news coverage has slowed as of late), this is still a good time to remind our readers of important hospital safety procedures and some facts about Ebola. Dr. Kent Brantly, who himself contracted the virus disease while working in West Africa, spoke back in September to a Senate subcommittee on the necessary precautions every medical practice should take.

In the unlikely case of someone at your hospital being diagnosed with Ebola, one of the most important (and often overlooked) steps is making sure you have all of the necessary referral contact information prepared to alert appropriate local and state health departments. This ensures the appropriate parties are aware of the situation in a quick and efficient manner. It’s also helpful to know contact information for any associated hospital systems to which you refer patients.

Make sure your staff is prepared for such a situation! Everyone should have a role and everyone should know what is expected of them if an Ebola diagnosis comes to light or may come to light as a result of patient symptoms. For example, an administrative assistant in your practice who is scheduling appointments would do well to inquire as to a patient’s travel history and symptoms before admitting them to your offices.

Isolation is important. Designate a space in your practice that does not have frequent foot traffic or use, and utilize that as an isolation room until local or state officials can transport the patient to a more secure facility.

Now that you have your plan in place, what are some personal steps you can take to stay healthy and proactive? What are some common misconceptions about the Ebola virus disease? 
  1. Wash your hands! Not only does it make sense from a hygiene standpoint, but it assures that you don’t unintentionally introduce something to your body via your mouth, nose, eyelids, etc.
  2. It’s spread only if a patient shows symptoms. If they don’t show symptoms when you were interacting with them, they aren’t contagious. 
  3. Wear standard medical equipment whenever possible. If you’d normally conduct a simple exam without gloves, then add gloves to your routine moving forward. Masks and goggles should be used as well if a patient displays known symptoms.
  4. Be extra careful with bodily fluids. Double check containers, bags, caps, lids, and more before using them for fluid tests.
  5. Let someone know if you feel unnaturally ill. The common cold is no cause for concern, but an unnaturally high fever shouldn’t go untreated.
Resources and further readings on Ebola are vast. The World Health Organization has a very useful section on protective measures for medical staff which you can view here. It details putting on and removing protective equipment as well as taking and shipping blood samples from suspected patients. Doctors Without Borders also details the known history of Ebola and useful information to stay safe and alert as new patient cases are diagnosed and treated. The AAFP has a quick and simple list of precautions you and your practice can use to be fully aware of how to handle a situation regarding Ebola. Widespread infections are highly unlikely, but this is a great opportunity to review your practice’s medical emergency plan and educate yourself on how to properly deal with Ebola.

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