Preparing America’s Health Care Facilities and Providers for Ebola

During the past several weeks, news about the Ebola virus has dominated news platforms and been on everyone’s mind. The problem is, not everything that is being reported is accurate. The good news is that we have the facts and resources for information straight from the director of  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, provides his thoughts on Ebola and how U.S. health care facilities and personnel can prepare for the virus.

CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH

Since the first appearance of Ebola in West Africa earlier this year, CDC has been working to prepare the American health care system for the diagnosis and safe care of a patient with Ebola here on our shores.

We have learned immensely from this first U.S.-diagnosed case and we are implementing additional actions to make sure health care workers and hospitals around the nation are as prepared and informed as possible.

CDC is committed to making sure every U.S. health care system and health care worker is prepared for Ebola. Key is first noting if the patient exhibits symptoms consistent with Ebola, and if so, working with that patient using the most meticulous infection control procedures, and then taking a careful and complete travel history of each patient who comes in their door.

In the past three months, CDC has been in close communication with hundreds of thousands of clinicians through notices distributed through CDC’s Health Alert Network, our primary means of reaching the nation’s health care community — and one they are already very familiar with. The Ebola-related notices have included recommendations for evaluating patients, guidance for the nation’s Emergency Medical Services systems and 911 offices, and guidelines for infection control should a hospital or health care facility find themselves caring for a patient with known or suspected Ebola.

We’re holding daily press conferences which include information specifically for those in the health care profession. To prepare health care workers to go to West Africa and safely care for Ebola patients, CDC organized the first course on safety and infection control training which is now being offered every week.

We’ve conducted clinician education webinars, reaching more than 8,000 doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. We’ve worked closely with the nation’s associations of hospitals, infection specialists, infection disease clinicians, and hospital epidemiologists, among others, to reach their members with critical information on preparing for Ebola to arrive unannounced in the United States and continue to hold calls on a daily basis. Upcoming webinars are planned for emergency room doctors, emergency medical system workers, nurses, health insurance providers, and state and local public health departments.

We’ve answered thousands of telephone calls – and nearly 20 times as many per day in the past week as previously.

We have a hotline —800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) —where medical personnel can call and be connected with public health experts.

Care of patients with Ebola is complex. That is why CDC has provided checklists and decision guides to aid health workers in doing their jobs.

Some of the materials include guidance on infection control for hospitals, a decision guide Adobe PDF file  and checklist  Adobe PDF file for evaluating someone who has come to the United States from West Africa, and a detailed checklist Adobe PDF file  for those working in Emergency Medical Services.

These materials and much more are available on CDC’s website which is updated daily or more frequently, as needed.

Ebola is a serious disease and people are scared. It’s normal to be scared. We want health care workers to have a healthy respect for the risk that any lapse in infection control procedures could have. We want them to channel their acute awareness of the disease into being rigorously meticulous about infection control. This is what these professionals are trained to do and what our guidance, education, and outreach is continuing to help them do.

Today we hosted a conference call with the fifty state health commissioners to arm them as they work with their state hospitals and health care facilities. We shared lessons learned in many areas including how to prepare hospital emergency departments, how to take travel histories, and how to deal with potentially infected waste.

In addition, we’re working closely with hospitals across the nation. This includes assisting hospitals with holding drills to make sure hospital staff are properly prepared for the arrival of a patient who might have Ebola.

And we working with Dallas County, Texas, health officials and others to create a catalogue of information, The Big Book of Ebola, for clinicians who need to know in the moment how to respond to a concern about Ebola.

We will continue to be a resource for clinicians across the country by holding webinars, sending out Health Alert Network notices, communicating via social media and news media, and working even more closely with our federal, state, and local government partners to keep our commitment to the American people. Their health and safety is our first priority.

But while our top priority at CDC is to protect Americans from threats, we cannot lose sight of the work that must be done in West Africa. Until we stop the Ebola outbreak there, we will not get to zero risk of Ebola here.

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