Because Vinson herself was covered up, the medical safety coordinator's risk of contracting Ebola was extremely low. He also was at a distance from the patient and experienced limited time around her.
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During a report for CBS News, Dr. Jon LaPook said, "He is a physician and he was following protocol. He is a medical safety coordinator and his purpose is to be the eyes and ears on the ramp to make sure things are being done correctly. The protective gear worn by the other two members of his team impedes their peripheral vision, so the man with the clipboard actually had the best ‘big picture' view."
But what about nurses and other health care professionals watching such footage and other Ebola outbreak coverage? They are now seeking access to appropriate protective gear and require other support.
This week, for example, AFT Nurses and Health Professionals, the second-largest nurses union in the United States, called for better infection-control protocols and worker preparedness plans at all health facilities.
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"Nurses and health professionals are on the frontlines, and with the right protocols, preparedness, coordination and equipment, as well as a voice in the process, we can keep our communities safe and healthy," AFT president Randi Weingarten was quoted as saying in a press release. "We must also stop playing politics with funding. We must invest in public health so that healthcare workers and communities have the infrastructure–that is, the education, coordination, supports, communication, tools, equipment and protocols–they need."
A paper in the upcoming issue of International Journal of Nursing Studies questions: "Are facemasks sufficient to meet occupational health and safety obligations?"
The paper, authored by Raina MacIntyre of the University of New South Wales' School of Public Health and Community Medicine and colleagues, writes that while "Ebola virus is predominantly spread by contact with blood and body fluids, there is some uncertainty about the potential for aerosol transmission."
The researchers add that there is "evidence for respirators (but not masks) providing protection against non-aerosolised infections...We accept that cost, supply and logistics may, in some settings, preclude the use of respirators, but guidelines should outline best practice in the ideal setting, with discussion about contingency plans should the ideal recommendation be unfeasible."
MacIntyre and her team point out that existing recommendations concerning the use of either a mask or a respirator, as well as other hazmat suit-type gear, vary around the world when it comes to protecting healthcare workers from Ebola. Most of the guidelines are also subject to interpretation.
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For example, in the United Kingdom, standard medical masks are advised by the Department of Health when a healthcare professional suspects that a patient has Ebola but "does not have extensive bruising, active bleeding, uncontrolled diarrhea, uncontrolled vomiting." If a patient is exhibiting those symptoms and may have Ebola, the recommendations call for use of a respirator. In South Africa, workers "preferably" should wear a respirator, according to the Department of Health there. In the United States, the CDC instructs lab workers to wear "appropriate respirators or a full body suit."
With Ebola affecting many countries, there will continue to be a greater need for a more coordinated global effort to fight the virus and to safeguard appropriately against it, particularly in terms of protecting healthcare workers.
As MacIntyre and her team wrote, "Health care workers, many of whom are nurses, are on the front line of the response, and their occupational health and safety is critical to control of the outbreak and maintenance of the health workforce during a crisis."