What’s happening on the front lines of the Ebola Epidemic?2 min read
With the Ebola outbreak now extended past its original borders of West Africa, you’re very possibly wondering why those highly trained healthcare providers are the ones in the media spotlight for contracting the virus.
Is it due to human error? A lapse in protocol? Not enough protocol?
Doctors and nurses have courageously put themselves on the frontlines of this epidemic. Remember that the virus is spread through direct contact with an infected patient’s blood or bodily fluids, so by heading into the center of the epidemic, they’re consciously putting themselves in harm’s way. These healthcare professionals are now in close proximity with visibly sick Ebola patients, and that means that they are at the highest risk of making contact with those bodily fluids.
In the U.S. there has been a lot of attention paid to the two Dallas, Texas, nurses who contracted Ebola after caring for Thomas Duncan (the first person ever diagnosed with Ebola in the United States). But they aren’t the only ones we should be talking about.
A huge number of people who contracted Ebola in West Africa were also healthcare workers. In fact, since June, 400 healthcare workers have contracted Ebola and more than 230 have died.
Just this week, Doctors Without Borders reported that sixteen of its staff members were sickened with Ebola and nine have died from the virus.
While it’s clear that protocols can always be tightened, there is always a potential for human error when treating sick patients.
The best way for doctors and nurses to protect themselves against Ebola is to wear full-body Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). However, there’s a paradox here – wearing PPE can also be one of the easiest ways to contract the deadly virus.
There are levels of PPE, with the highest level not showing an inch of skin. This full level of PPE typically consists of a full-body impermeable suit with a hood, rubber boots covered by Tyvek boots, multiple pairs of surgical gloves, a surgical mask over the healthcare worker’s nose and mouth, a plastic bib, goggles, a plastic apron and a lot of duct tape.
Putting on and taking off these suits leaves a lot of room for lethal mistakes. Properly putting on one of these suits takes two people and about 10 minutes. Removing a PPE is a clumsy and difficult process as well as shown in this video by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
If you think about it, though, there’s another reason why healthcare workers in the affected countries in Africa are often infected. Many are exposed to patients before the patient is diagnosed. Unless they suit up to see everyone who walks into an emergency room or a treatment center, they are at risk. Doing routine triage tasks requires a level of courage and dedication that most of us can only admire.