Infection control experts: U.S. isn't ready to handle an epidemic

By Kaitlin Morrison-Greenlund

Infectious disease experts say the country isn't ready for the next epidemic and this week called on lawmakers to help raise awareness and provide additional funding to prevent another serious disease from threatening the nation. An outbreak caused by an unexpected pathogen, unlike the Ebola epidemic one year ago, will likely cause significant harm unless the country takes adequate countermeasures, according to The Washington Times.

"There will be another infectious disease outbreak and it's probably going to be with an agent that I don't have on my slide," said Bruce Ribner, M.D., medical director at Emory University Hospital Serious Communicable Disease Unit, at a Capitol Hill briefing, The Washington Times reported. 

Most people forgot about epidemic preparedness as soon as Ebola was no longer perceived as an immediate threat, he said. This lack of risk awareness, he believes, indicates that Americans have not learned enough from last year's tragic Ebola epidemic.

Many nurses and other healthcare providers believe hospitals are not adequately prepared for future outbreaks. And an unexpected resurgence of Ebola infection and unusual complications among Ebola survivors leaves many medical personnel uncertain about future infection control and treatment capabilities, as The Washington Post reports. For example, health officials thought Pauline Cafferkey, a British nurse who contracted Ebola last year while in Sierre Leone, had completely recovered. However, this week she is back fighting for her life due to a complication from the virus.

Over the past year infectious disease and public health records have recommended potential policy and procedure changes in response to the Ebola outbreak, such as boosting the number of community health workers and improved training for medical personnel on how to correctly put on and take off PPE, FierceHealthcare previously reported. 

Already, some measures are underway to increase academic research in order to prevent future epidemics. Texas Health Presbyterian, the Dallas hospital which treated the first Ebola victim in the U.S., has made several changes to its procedures in response to the mistakes clinicians made that resulted in the patient's initial misdiagnosis and spread of the illness to two nurses.

Revised hospital triage and documentation procedures may help medical personnel stay safe and provide more effective diagnosis and treatment of Ebola by redirecting personnel attention back to infection control and away from competing distractions. Additional community health workers, deployed in local primary care systems, strengthen frontline responses to outbreaks while also promoting improved patient wellness and healthcare outcomes.

Improved training on infection control procedures is necessary. Even when healthcare workers receive sufficient supplies and personal protective equipment, confusion about and noncompliance with proper PPE procedures prevent medical personnel from being adequately protected from infection during an outbreak. One study found half of medical personnel remove PPE improperly and risk infection during an outbreak. Participation in a training program, including a demonstration of proper PPE removal and the use of florescence to show possible contamination, significantly reduces self-contamination risk, researchers found.

To learn more:
- read The Washington Times article
- check out The Washington Post article

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