Ebola epidemic slows down, but public health officials prepare for new threat

The Ebola outbreak in Liberia is now showing signs of slowing down, but U.S. public officials aren't necessarily breathing a sigh of relief as they now must prepare for the next health disaster, the Associated Press reports.

"It's really urgent that we address the weak links and blind spots around the world," Tom Frieden, M.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told The Associated Press. "Ebola is a powerful reminder that a health threat anywhere can affect us."

The virus, the worst outbreak in history, has killed 5,459 people to date, according to the latest statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO). The agency reports a total of 15,351 confirmed cases of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Spain, United States, Nigeria and Senegal.

Despite the CDC's close watch on the outbreak and guidelines for U.S. hospitals to prepare for the virus to make its way to the country, healthcare organizations were not ready when the first case appeared in September. The first Ebola patient in the United States was misdiagnosed and failure to properly put safeguards in place led two nurses caring for him to contract the disease.

The White House administration has requested $6 billion for resources to be used in part for the CDC to work with an international coalition to prepare for and prevent the spread of Ebola and other infectious diseases. The agency plans to train rapid response teams to investigate cases, "so they're better able to detect and respond to not only Ebola but other pathogens," Jordan Tappero, M.D., the CDC's director of global health protection told the news outlet. "It's our intention to be there for the long-term to really build that public health capacity."

Meanwhile, Frieden said that although the slowdown in the disease in Liberia is encouraging, it's unclear whether it will continue, MedPageToday reports. "The recent decrease in cases suggested by these reports shows how important it is to continue to intensify our Ebola response," he said. "We have to keep our guard up... We can't stop until we stop the last chain of transmission."

Closer to home, National Nurses United urged the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to implement strict safety requirements to shield healthcare workers from the virus similar to ones that California created in the wake of a two-day nurses strike and world-wide protest about the lack of healthcare safety protections in place.

The CDC last week released updated guidelines and best practices for U.S. hospitals to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff to wear when treating patients with the deadly virus due to the sudden increase in demand.

But California nurses continue to clash with hospitals over Ebola training, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reports. Some Bay Area hospitals focus on training select staff members with hands-on training but others only offer online training modules. Hospitals say it's not necessary to train every nurse and every unit, but nurses worry that they won't be properly trained to handle a potential case.

To learn more:
- read the AP report
- here's the latest WHO statistics (.pdf)
- check out the MedPage Today article
- here's the latest CDC PPE guidelines
- read the Santa Cruz Sentinel article