One of the biggest issues in health care today is stopping the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Nurses are playing a huge part in this effort.  However, a recent study from National Nurses United revealed that as of at least several weeks ago, 80% of nurses said their hospital had not communicated to them any policy regarding potential admission of patients infected by Ebola.

Nurses need to know as much as possible about the virus, and how to effectively treat patients.  Here is what we can learn from other communities who have been affected by Ebola.

Be guarded. When a 1995 Ebola outbreak occurred in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), the first case appeared in January, but it was not recognized until April.  Many health officials believe that an earlier recognition and response might have prevented widespread transmission of the virus.

According to the CDC’s Checklist for Patients Being Evaluated for Ebola Virus Disease in the United States, health care workers should suspect Ebola if fever or compatible Ebola symptoms are present in patients.  Symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Severe headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Abdominal (stomach) pain
  • Unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Isolate if necessary. The CDC reports that isolation precautions along with early suspicion can help prevent future serious outbreaks of Ebola.  This means isolating a patient in a single room with a bathroom.

Reports coming from Nigeria seem to suggest that the country is controlling the current spread of Ebola within its borders, in part because its medically advanced hospitals have isolation wards at the ready in every state.

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Always wear personal protective equipment (PPE). Doctors and nurses at hospitals in Nigeria have reportedly have been given special rooms to carefully put on and take off protective gear when evaluating potential Ebola patients.

The Ebola virus can enter the body through broken skin or unprotected mucous membranes, so it’s important to adhere to protocols for wearing protective clothing. According to the CDC, this include gowns, masks or respirators, goggles or face shields and gloves.

Make sure you know your hospital’s guidelines.  There may be additional measures required, such as the use of double gloving, disposable shoe covers, and leg coverings.

The CDC also recommends using the buddy system to ensure that personal protective equipment is put on and removed safely.

Understand sterilization and disposal guidelines. Many of the countries that are experiencing an uncontrolled Ebola outbreak are known to have medical facilities with poor sterilization processes.  This should underscore the importance of using proper guidelines here, each and every time you interact with a patient.

When someone is suspected of being sick with Ebola, the use of needles and other sharps should be limited as much as possible, according to CDC guidelines.  When they are used, they should be handled with extreme care and disposed of in puncture-proof, sealed containers.  In addition, only essential evaluations and laboratory testing should be considered, to the minimum necessary for diagnostic evaluation and medical care.

Communicate clearly and often. There is a lot to learn about Ebola, and as we find out more about how it is spread and how to treat it, we must continuously share information with those in our community.

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In the medical setting, learn if patients who have symptoms have traveled to areas affected by the Ebola outbreak, including the countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone.

CDC guidelines state that health care workers must also let health officials know if they have had direct contact with the blood, body fluids or secretions of a patient who is sick with Ebola.

If you are not sure what your hospital’s procedures are, ask leadership for clear direction.

It is important for nurses to be prepared to treat patients who may have Ebola.  By learning what other affected communities have done in reaction to the virus, you may be able to help prevent a crisis from rising in your own community.

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