Ebola is increasingly on the minds of doctors, nurses and other frontline health workers around the country and the Centers for Disease Control reports a significant spike in clinical staff seeking out the agency’s guidance over the last week.
Dr. Linda Girgis, who runs her own practice in New Jersey, says she runs through ‘what if’ scenarios in her head these days.
“For example, if I have a patient who walks in to see me in the evening, the health department is closed so we really don’t have anybody to call at that time to know what to do with that patient,” she says.
Beyond that, Girgis worries EMTs who would transport that patient aren’t sure what to do, either.
“A lot of us don’t feel that we are prepared to take the precautions to contain the infection,” she says.
Various arms of the federal government have stepped up outreach efforts since the first patient was diagnosed with Ebola in the United States.
Wednesday, the CDC hosted a Twitter chat. The Monday before, Dr. Nicole Lurie, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, penned a letter addressed to “All U.S. Healthcare Professionals.”
Lurie, who herself is a primary care doctor, outlined three steps to prevent the spread of Ebola.
An Open Letter to All U.S. Healthcare Professionals Dear Colleague,
As a frontline healthcare provider, you play an essential role in protecting the health and well-being of our nation. In light of the recent presentation of an Ebola-positive patient in Texas, we wanted to remind all healthcare professionals that simple steps can be taken to prevent the spread of this disease. You can contribute to our country’s response by being ready to detect a potentially infected patient; protect yourself, your colleagues, and other patients from exposure; and respond with appropriate patient care. Specifically, you should be ready to:
Detect: Ask All Patients with Non-Specific Complaints About Recent Travel
A travel history should be taken as early as possible in your encounter with all patients. Although the signs and symptoms of Ebola are nonspecific (e.g., fever, headache, muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.), Ebola can be virtually eliminated from your differential by ruling out travel to the affected area.
Protect: Use Good Infection Control Practices
Consistent and correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE), frequent hand washing, and proper decontamination of surfaces and equipment are key to reducing or eliminating the transmission of Ebola and other communicable diseases (e.g., HIV, influenza, hepatitis, and Enterovirus-D68).
Respond: Have a Plan
All healthcare workers should know what to do when encountering a suspected Ebola patient. It is critical to know who to notify and to make that notification immediately. Remember, Ebola is a nationally notifiable disease and must be reported to local, state, and federal public health authorities.
The CDC website has many important resources for clinicians to learn more about Ebola.
In addition, the CDC Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is always available at 770-488-7100 or email@example.com.
In the last decade, our nation has made great strides in healthcare system and public health emergency preparedness. As a result of our efforts, we are confident in our collective ability to control the spread of Ebola domestically. Thank you for your continued partnership and dedication to national health security.
Nicole Lurie, M.D., M.S.P.H.
RADM, U.S. Public Health Service
Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response
The letter included CDC emergency operation contacts.
“It takes the whole healthcare community to protect health. Everybody involved has to recognize it’s my problem, not somebody else’s problem,” she says.
Lurie understands it often takes a while for something to sink in. That’s why she says she's ready to repeat herself for as long as it takes.
What is the CDC sending out to doctors?
The CDC is sending doctors handouts like this checklist for evaluating patients for Ebola and the flowchart below on how to evaluate a returned traveler.