Ebola Risk Alert

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“Ebola, previously known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a rare and deadly disease caused by infection with one of the Ebola virus strains. Ebola can cause disease in humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees).” In light of recent cases being confirmed in the United States, the CDC, WHO and government officials are calling for prompt action to address the Ebola virus. Past outbreaks show that the Ebola virus has a high mortality rate in foreign countries.

Ebola symptoms generally appear within 8 to 10 days after the initial exposure but may occur anywhere between 2 and 21 days after exposure. Signs and symptoms of Ebola include: Fever (greater than 38.6°C or 101.5°F), severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal (stomach) pain, unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising).

Generally, “Ebola is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola; objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus; infected animals.” – CDC

At this time “Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general, by food. There is no evidence that mosquitos or other insects can transmit Ebola virus. Only mammals (for example, humans, bats, monkeys, and apes) have shown the ability to become infected with and spread Ebola virus.”

One of the biggest concerns surrounding the exposure of Nurse Amber Vinson and Nurse Pham at the Texas Presbyterian Hospital is the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE). The fact that medical professionals who utilize PPE on a daily basis may not have received proper training or the proper equipment is a reminder to administrators and safety professionals to ensure that all first responders such as police officers, EMT’s and fire fighters and health practitioners receive proper training and equipment and demonstrate that they can properly don and doff their PPE. Training should include bloodborne pathogens, aerosol transmissible diseases (ATD), decontamination, proper disposal of contaminated PPE, disease reporting and SEMS/NIMS emergency protocols.

In California, communicable diseases are required to be reported by school site officials and other health care providers to the local health department. Title 17, Section 2500(j)(1) lists the diseases which are required to be reported and while Ebola is not currently listed, it does meet the definition of a suspected case and should be reported.

Schools, cities and towns should review their emergency plans including pandemic specific plans and practice the procedures outlined in the plans with all staff members. In addition, a PPE hazard assessment should be conducted to ensure that the proper equipment is identified for the proper job task. PPE should be properly stocked and available to staff who are required to wear the PPE for their job.

Police officers and fire fighters should exercise caution when dealing with individuals who have bodily fluids on their person or clothing and should follow their ATD plan.

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