With Ebola continuing to make worldwide headlines and affect thousands of lives across the globe, nurses in the United States are preparing for something unfamiliar. With the fluidity of international travel, a potential Ebola case is as likely to happen in a large city hospital as a small community one.

And while an alarming recent survey by National Nurses United revealed that 60 percent of surveyed nurses said their organizations weren’t ready to deal with Ebola patients, nurses on the front lines still have to be ready for something unexpected.

It’s really about relying on the skills, education, and training all nurses have,” says Tara Tehan, MSN, MBA, RN, NE-BC, SCRN, and president of the American Nurses Association Massachusetts. “It’s about using your patient history skills and your assessment skills and gathering the information to get it right.”

Tehan says that while Ebola is not a new disease, cases on US soil are unprecedented. So health care teams must be on a higher alert to diagnose a patient’s symptoms, especially any in light of recent travel. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms generally appear within 8 to 10 days after exposure, but that period can be as short as 2 days or as long as 21. Ebola cannot be spread until a person begins to show symptoms, so early detection is critical to keep the disease from spreading.

Many Ebola symptoms can mimic other conditions, so it’s not an easy call when you’re faced with a patient who is exhibiting concerning symptoms. So what should nurses be aware of?

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CDC guidelines say nurses need to watch for the following typical symptoms:

Fever

Weakness

Severe headache

Abdominal pain

Diarrhea

Vomiting

Muscle pain

Unexplained hemorrhage

The CDC has posted Information for Healthcare Workers and Settings on its site and also includes a checklist for health care workers who might evaluate any possible Ebola patients.

American Nurses Association President Pam Cipriano, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN issued a recent press release that calls for extra care and caution. “Now that the first travel-related case of the disease in the United States has been reported in Dallas,” Cipriano’s said in the release, “it is critical that all members of the health care team have appropriate knowledge, education, and personal protective equipment to effectively provide care to patients. ANA also underscores the need to practice meticulous infection control at all times.”

Being on a higher alert means following strict infection prevention measures and universal precautions, says Tehan. And Tehan advises nurses to have a low threshold for possible Ebola infections. The CDC, she says, is recommending that proper mechanisms be put in place if Ebola is suspected.

We are relying on skills we already have,” says Tehan. “We haven’t had a patient in the US before but any time we see something we haven’t seen before and that has the potential for widespread transmission, we have to be alert.”

And although certain organizations and hospitals may be unprepared for seeing and treating Ebola effectively, Tehan says nurses are ready. “We are prepared,” she says. “This is what we do every day. Now it’s about applying it to Ebola.”

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Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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