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Ebola: CDC Guidelines for Healthcare Workers

Ebola: CDC Guidelines for Healthcare Workers

In October 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued revised guidelines for the protective equipment to be worn by healthcare workers taking care of patients with Ebola.

Why were these new guidelines issued? Since Ebola has been rarely transmitted in the U.S., the healthcare community needs to get up-to-speed on the disease, how it’s transmitted and what they can do to protect themselves when treating Ebola patients.

Here's what you need to know:

How do you catch Ebola?
To catch Ebola, you have to have direct contact with the bodily fluids—such as vomiting or diarrhea—of an infected patient. While that’s something that’s unlikely to happen while out in public, healthcare workers deal with it on a daily basis. So the CDC is now recommending higher levels of protection for healthcare workers taking care of a patient with Ebola.

No skin exposed
Previous guidelines had stated that workers needed gowns and masks, but not full skin coverage. The new guidelines take personal protective equipment further, advising that workers wear double gloves, boot covers that are waterproof and go up at least to mid-calf, an impermeable gown, face shield and a hood to completely cover the head and neck. They also advise that they either wear a specialized N95 mask or powered air-purifying respirator. If a patient is at even higher risk, the healthcare worker may need to wear a waterproof apron.

Increased supervision
The new recommendations also advise that anyone putting on, using or removing the protective equipment be observed by another specially trained person. That’s helpful because these protective outfits are complicated. It’s possible to contaminate yourself by touching the outside of the suit, and then touching another part of your body. Having supervision means it will be less likely that healthcare workers removing contaminated gear will accidentally infect themselves. Other recommendations include disinfecting hands and other contaminated parts of gear before even removing them.

How do I care for someone with Ebola?

What’s next? The CDC cannot require that all hospitals or institutions follow these protocols—they can simply make recommendations. So rigorous training and scrupulous monitoring of healthcare workers when they put on or take off gear will be crucial to continue to protect them.

While the guidelines are recommendations, they are worth following. Ebola patients have been successfully treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center outside of Washington, DC, with no healthcare personnel becoming infected.

How close are we to developing an Ebola vaccine?

Medically reviewed in January 2019.

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