The news from Dallas that a second health care worker has contracted Ebola after having cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola victim who died on October 8, has appropriately shaken the health care community. When firefighters, military personnel and police officers put on their uniforms they know they may be asked to put themselves in harm’s way as they work to protect and serve their communities. Through training and use of appropriate equipment, they reduce the risk to themselves, their partners and the people they serve. Their knowledge and training protects them the same way our knowledge and training protects us when it comes to preventing the spread of infections in health care.
As we don our scrubs and white coats (or whatever else you wear when interacting with patients), we should have the same mindset as the police officer putting on her bullet-proof vest or the firefighter checking his self-contained breathing apparatus before he goes on shift. We owe it to ourselves, our fellow caregivers, our patients and our families to fully understand how to stop the spread of the infections we will face every day and be hyper-vigilant about following infection control procedures designed to protect our patients and ourselves. It’s one of the most important aspects of the job we do as caregivers.
Ebola is a horrible, nasty infection and I urge you to learn everything you can about this infection and how to stop its spread by reading the CDC recommendations. The Medical Center has also placed its guidelines and other pertinent information on the Infectious Disease page on our internal employee website, OurNet. But reading about Ebola and following the CDC recommendations is not enough. This week the Medical Center held Ebola Informational Forums that provide current information on Ebola virus disease, the risk of spread to others and the use of personal protective equipment; more forums are planned. Forums are also taking place at our hospitals across the system, so watch for details. I strongly encourage you to attend one of these forums, open to all health care system employees.
The specific response to a patient with suspected Ebola is dependent on the health care setting where you provide care (ER, inpatient, outpatient clinic, etc.). Regardless of the location, if you have a patient you suspect may have Ebola (fever of 100.4, diarrhea, vomiting and travel from West Africa within the last four weeks), you should isolate them in a room as quickly as possible, have them put on a mask and give them a clean sheet to cover themselves with. You should then put on your own personal protective equipment and call Care Connect at 508-334-4111. We have specially trained transport teams and caregivers ready to assist once the patient is identified, but it’s up to all of us to be ready as there are multiple places where an Ebola patient could theoretically enter our health care system.
As bad as Ebola is, it has killed and injured far fewer patients and caregivers than Influenza, Hepatitis C and HIV. As the Ebola situation escalates and eventually de-escalates, let’s not forget that every day that we come to work we can mitigate the risk of infection for our patients, each other and ourselves by following sound infection control procedures that we have all been trained to exercise.
Thanks for taking great care of our patients and one another,