Ebola fears spurred 'unprecedented' hospital prep

Even as the threat of Ebola recedes, the healthcare sector's experiences last fall as it faced a possible American outbreak created a need for unprecedented planning within the industry, according to two studies published in the Journal of Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

The first study examined the healthcare needs for two confirmed or suspected Ebola cases and outlined the unique treatment challenges. Although there were existing procedures for the kind of care the Ebola patients required, caregivers also faced practical obstacles that required them to adjust their procedures on short notice.  

"Years of planning and drills for care of a patient exposed or infected with Ebola could not anticipate the external scrutiny in which care was delivered," lead author Tara Palmore, M.D., of the National Institutes of Health's Clinical Center, said in a statement. "Many precautions were taken to prevent the spread of the virus, and some were taken to mitigate fear, even if science did not always support those fears. We were humbled by the commitment of healthcare providers and others to the mission of caring for these patients."

The second study broke down a survey on Ebola preparation that included more than 250 members of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America. More than 80 percent of infection control staff's time involved preparedness exercises such as planning and personal protective equipment/triage training, according to respondents, significantly reducing their time for routine infection prevention activities.

Respondents also indicated that media and public interest in the virus' potential spread complicated patient confidentiality, and this interest created high levels of anxiety and stigma comparable to the 1980s AIDS epidemic. However, transparency with both the public and patients was also a vital part of containment efforts, according to the researchers. Respondents worked to reassure patients and the public of infection control efforts in place, but more than 40 patients still canceled or rescheduled appointments, according to the study.

To learn more:
- here's the first study abstract
- read the second study abstract
- check out the statement