Ebola response shows double standard in infection control prevention

Health officials' response to Ebola compared to their reaction to hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) demonstrates a clear double standard, according to an opinion piece in Forbes.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has gone to extensive lengths to prevent the spread of Ebola, recently working with the White House administration to designate 35 hospitals nationwide as treatment centers for any patients who contract the virus, it has not made the same effort for HAIs such as C. diff., writes Forbes contributor Robert Pearl, M.D., the CEO of Permanente Medical Group. This is counterintuitive, Pearl writes, as 2011 alone saw 722,000 HAIs, which caused about 75,000 deaths.

Even in the face of these statistics, Pearl writes, healthcare workers find reasons not to practice proper hand hygiene before and after visiting a patient room. "Healthcare workers tell themselves it is not essential to wash if a patient seems healthy," he writes. "They may rationalize that it's too much trouble or that they don't have the time. But make no mistake, if improper hand hygiene put 14,000 caregivers at risk of dying, the culture and rules of healthcare would change rapidly."

This is particularly glaring amid the demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) to safeguard healthcare workers against Ebola. American health authorities are overwhelming PPE manufacturers, with the CDC ordering nearly $3 million worth of the equipment. Pearl agrees that health leaders must do everything in their power to provide the necessary reosurces for caring for Ebola patients, but the same concern must also apply to efforts to stop HAIs. "No healthcare worker wants to hurt patients, but it happens. And all too often, the healthcare double standard is to blame," he writes.

Part of the problem is the failure of traditional efforts, such as awareness posters, to create a culture where hand hygiene is encouraged, although hospital leaders may achieve better results through strategies such as leveraging consequences and improving hand hygiene on the patients' end, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the opinion piece