How ready are U.S. hospitals for Ebola?
The debate over how ready U.S. hospitals are to handle Ebola patients has ratcheted up with the announcement that a nurse who treated an Ebola patient in a Dallas hospital has herself contracted the disease. She had cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who last week became the first person to die of Ebola in the U.S.
After tests confirmed the diagnosis Sunday, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suggested that a "protocol breach" had likely caused the still unidentified woman to become infected. But health care and infection control experts told Reuters that hospital staffs need to be better coached through the stages of treating an Ebola patient, making sure they have the right safety equipment and know how to use it properly.
"You don't scapegoat and blame when you have a disease outbreak," said Bonnie Castillo, a registered nurse and a disaster relief expert at National Nurses United, which serves as both a union and a professional association for U.S. nurses. "We have a system failure. That is what we have to correct."
The CDC has published detailed guidelines on how to handle various aspects of Ebola, from lab specimens and infectious waste to the proper use of protective equipment. But how that information gets passed on to hospital staffs and how extensively people are trained to implement it can vary from hospital to hospital.
CDC and Texas health officials said the infected nurse had worn the recommended personal protective gear for Ebola, which consists of gloves, a gown, a mask, and a shield to protect the eyes from possible splatters from the patient. But, according to experts, that gear offers the minimum level of protection for when an Ebola patient enters the late stages of the disease when his or her body produces an enormous amount of fluid. At that point, caregivers need to add more layers of protective gear, such as double gloves and a respirator or a full bodysuit.
The CDC is now considering whether to designate a limited number of U.S. hospitals as regional Ebola treatment centers.