Ebola Outbreak Highlights Importance of Infection Control for Healthcare Professionals

By CareerSmart Learning Contributor, October 2014 , as published by Healthcare Hot Spot

The Ebola outbreak has focused the attention of the world, and healthcare workers in particular, on the plight of those affected. The situation is made even sadder by the fact that some of those people who are infected with Ebola were exposed because they were treating those already affected.

After the death of the Liberian man who arrived in Dallas with the disease, as well as the infection of a healthcare professional treating the patient, hospitals have been on high alert for signs of those who could be infected. As the first case came through in Texas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took charge on the situation and issued a statement claiming that the disease will stop here. Now with the latest case being attributed to “breach in protocol,” hospitals and their infection control practices are under the microscope.
As the disease continues to appear in the news throughout the country, it’s important to highlight the health professional’s adherence to the safety standards in place for infection control.

Infected Healthcare Workers and Volunteers

In August, the World Health Organization stated via press release that the infected persons from the recent outbreak of Ebola included over 240 healthcare workers. From Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Liberia and Guinea, many of those who are on the front lines of controlling the disease have contracted it themselves. As of recent statistics from the WHO, more than 120 healthcare workers have died from Ebola.

Not only has Ebola taken prominent physicians who are experienced in the Ebola virus, but it then deprives these nations of now deceased medical professionals who were dedicated and experienced in medical care. Volunteers are at just as much risk as the doctors treating the disease, which brings to light the procedures that all healthcare workers should follow in order to protect themselves from infectious diseases of all types.

Air-Borne versus Blood-Borne Pathogens

Air-borne pathogens are more easily transmitted, of course. Some of the common diseases in this class, meningitis, pneumonia, flu, whooping cough, tuberculosis, are typically seen readily in close-quarters due to their ability to pass rapidly in small spaces.

The Ebola virus, similar to Hepatitis B, C, D or HIV, is a blood-borne pathogen, spread through direct contact with open wounds, organs or bodily fluids of an infected individual. The infection can also be transmitted via surfaces and material such as soiled bedding or clothing contaminated with the Ebola virus. While there is widespread fear that the Ebola virus may also be airborne, experts have not yet confirmed this is the case; nonetheless, the Centers for Disease Control is advising all healthcare workers to exercise high standards in infection control across all levels of healthcare settings.

Other common infectious diseases that may affect healthcare workers include:

  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)
  • Clostridium difficile (C. diff)
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Hepatitis
  • Tuberculosis

 

How to Best Prevent the Spread of Infection

 

  • The best ways in which to prevent the spread of infection include the use of:
  • Work practice controls
  • Engineering controls
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Hand washing
  • Universal precautions
  • Laundry handling
  • Housekeeping guidelines

 

Work Practice Controls

Work practice controls include the use of the most appropriate controls and personal protective equipment, also known as PPE. This will minimize the chance for personal exposure.

To avoid cross contamination, PPE is removed and placed in appropriate containers for storing, washing, disposal or decontamination after each patient. Clothing that has been penetrated with blood or other materials that are potentially infectious should be removed as soon as possible.

Personal protective equipment includes:

  • Gloves
  • Gowns
  • Face masks

High tech equipment isn’t always the best protection. Hand washing is arguably the simplest and most effective way to avoid the spread of blood-borne pathogens.

Protection of Workers in Hospitals, Clinics and Physician’s Offices

Proper protection for healthcare workers in these workplaces includes:

  • Appropriate housekeeping procedures
  • Appropriate sharps and waste disposal
  • Hepatitis B vaccine, when it is indicated
  • Biohazard labeling
  • Follow up plans in the event of exposure

Caution with all infectious diseases is of vital importance so that they do not cause additional people to become ill. Something like the latest deaths of healthcare workers in the Ebola crisis brings this need into clear focus. It only takes a few moments for healthcare workers to ensure that they do not become ill due to infection by a patient whom they are helping. They cannot provide help to others if they become infected themselves.

 

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October 20, 2014

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