What providers can learn from infectious disease outbreaks

With the Ebola crisis far from over as a new year begins, both this current threat to global health as well as past infectious disease outbreaks carry important lessons for critical care providers, according to an article in the American Journal of Critical Care.

Because new pathogens are so unpredictable, "outbreaks reinforce the importance of critical care knowledge, skill and teamwork in uncertain situations," wrote Cindy L. Munro, R.N., Ph.D., and Richard H. Savel, M.D, both editors of the AJCC. "The recent Ebola outbreak reminds us that hand-washing, personal protective equipment and pristine technique are essential."

But while hospitals across the country step up readiness to meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's evolving guidelines to deal with Ebola patients, a recent report indicated that the United States is still fundamentally unprepared for future disease outbreaks, FierceHealthcare reported.

Munro and Savel advocate research to develop diagnostic tools, new therapies and vaccines as well as to improve the understanding of animal connections to disease outbreaks, which is underscored by a recent study that traced the root of the Ebola crisis to a 2-year-old Guinea boy's contact with fruit bats.

In addition to Ebola, diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic also emphasize that no country is an island when it comes to outbreaks, the authors said.

The Ebola outbreak in particular has taught the world that in a highly interconnected society, first-world countries cannot isolate themselves from the poorest states, where outbreaks often begin, according to the Washington Post. The global health community has also discovered it must adapt and rely on local leadership in outbreak response, respect other cultures and most importantly, keep hysteria in check, the Post writes. Most pressing, though, is the concept of prevention.

"If we don't start getting ahead of the curve on pandemics, we're sitting here like victims waiting for the next one," Peter Daszak, a disease ecologist who works on the Predict project, a disease-surveillance program funded largely by USAID, told the Post.

Though largely unable to influence political policy, healthcare providers still carry a heavy burden when it comes to mitigating the damage of the next big public health threat, said Munro and Savel. "Our duty is to use all our knowledge and skills to protect ourselves, our patients and the public, and to be ready for the next challenge," they wrote.

To learn more:
- read the AJCC article
- read the Washington Post article