During a press conference at CDC headquarters in Atlanta, CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, announced new initiatives to protect health care workers caring for patients with Ebola from becoming infected themselves.
“I’ve been hearing loud and clear from health care workers from around the country that they’re worried; that they don’t feel prepared to take care of a patient with Ebola; that they’re very distressed that one of our colleagues now has contracted Ebola and is fighting the infection in Dallas,” Frieden said. “A single infection in a health care worker is unacceptable, and what we’re doing at this point is looking at everything we can do to minimize that risk so those who are caring for her do that safely and effectively.”
Frieden said a team of the CDC’s “most experienced staff” and two nurses from Emory Healthcare have been sent to Dallas to observe and advise those caring for the nurse who was recently confirmed to have been infected with Ebola. This is the first case of the disease contracted within the US.
“Health care workers are understandably worried, and our top priority is their safety and the health of everyone in Texas,” David L. Lakey, MD, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said during the press event.
Frieden also announced new recommendations for any health care institution caring for a patient with Ebola, first and foremost that a site manager should be overseeing every aspect of infection control at all times of the day. Increased infection control training for health care workers and reducing the number of workers entering isolation units were also advised.
Frieden said these measures are equally important for health care providers who have yet to encounter the disease. Additional education will be available online or by request, and the CDC will have a response team on hand to reach any upcoming infection sites within hours.
“Every hospital in the country needs to be ready to diagnose Ebola,” Frieden said. “That means that every doctor, every nurse, every staff person in the ED who cares for someone with fever or other signs of infection needs to ask, ‘Where have you been in the past month?’”
Both Frieden and Lakey said the current patient is in stable condition, and that the single person with whom she may have had contact is under surveillance as well. The 48 contacts of the first Ebola patient remain without symptoms, having passed through two-thirds of the quarantine period. However, Frieden said the nurse’s infection means there is more to be done.
“We can’t rule out that other people who cared for the first patient, the index case, had exposure. Our teams have been working very hard to cast a wide net and identify everyone who might have been exposed in that circumstance. That includes anyone who went into the room, and that includes people who might have handled specimens of blood.”
As a result, 76 additional health care workers who could have had contact have been identified. Although none have yet shown symptoms of the disease, they will remain under surveillance until the risk period has passed.
“What we are dealing with is a disease that is unfamiliar in the US. Caring for Ebola can be done safely, but it’s hard. We want to make sure that the protocols we have and the support we have for health care workers are there on the ground so we can assist,” Frieden said.