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October 14, 2014

Second Ebola diagnosis shows danger for health workers

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The second diagnosis of Ebola in the U.S. has raised concerns about how to keep health workers safe while treating sick patients in hospitals.

Nurse Nina Pham was infected with Ebola after treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the first case of Ebola to be diagnosed in the U.S.  Duncan became sick in October after traveling to Dallas from the African nation of Liberia.

The current Ebola outbreak began in Guinea and spread to the neighboring West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Nigeria. Ebola spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, and there is no cure or vaccine for the virus. Following Duncan’s diagnosis, five major U.S. airports announced they would begin screening for fever in passengers arriving in the U.S. from Ebola-affected countries.

The spread of Ebola to the U.S. has raised concerns that health workers are not adequately prepared to treat the virus, according to Katy Roemer, a representative from nursing union National Nurses United. Their survey of over 2,000 nurses in 46 states and the District of Columbia shows a lack of preparedness among nurses.

85 percent of respondents said they have not had face-to-face training to answer their questions about Ebola, and 76 percent said they have not learned any protocol for treating Ebola in hospitals.

To protect against Ebola, health workers must wear hazmat suits. Nurses need to learn how to put on and remove these complicated suits to ensure their effectiveness, Roemer said.

“Nurses are putting our lives on the line in order to be able to care for these patients, and we expect the very highest levels of equipment and training to be able to do so,” Roemer said.

Currently, there are four specialized containment centers in the U.S.:  the National Institute for Health, Emory University, Nebraska and Montana. Patients who show Ebola symptoms will be transferred to these centers.

But if someone with the virus goes to a hospital that is not equipped to handle Ebola, that hospital’s nurses are at risk, Roemer said.


Warm up questions
  1. What is Ebola?
  2. How do hospitals prevent the spread of disease?
  3. What does it take to become a nurse?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Why is it riskier to treat Ebola than many other viruses?
  2. What is the responsibility of health workers to treat sick patients, and what equipment and training do they need to do this job properly? How could a lack of preparedness put this responsibility at risk?
  3. What are the benefits and costs of wide-scale education for health workers on treating Ebola in the U.S.? Should health workers be trained across the country in advance of a potential outbreak, or should they only be trained in areas where Ebola is already present? Why?
  4. If you were the head of a hospital, how would you balance preparing for Ebola with other priorities?  What factors would contribute to your decisions?
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