Ebola: infection prevention and control considerations

I gave a webinar yesterday on some of the infection prevention and control considerations related to Ebola. You can view the recording and download the slides here.

Whilst preparing the webinar, it occurred to me that the real game changer in the outbreak that made the world take note was the three transmissions of Ebola in developed healthcare systems outside of West Africa. One occurred in Madrid, Spain in early October, and a further two occurred in Dallas, Texas, a few weeks later. Before these in-hospital transmissions, there was a general feeling that developed healthcare systems could handle Ebola safely. Clearly, that was not the case!

Furthermore, the ratio of secondary transmissions for dealing with Ebola cases in developed healthcare systems isn’t great: of the 13 cases that have been cared for outside of West Africa, three secondary transmissions have occurred.

The outbreak has thrown up some new challenges, outlined below.

Figure: the emerging challenges of the Ebola outbreak (the dark shaded circles indicate the new and emerging challenges).

Ebola challenges

Many of us now find ourselves scrambling to develop Ebola preparedness protocols. These must start at the hospital door, with carefully considered risk assessments for patients presenting with Ebola-like symptoms. We can’t afford to get our full PPE kits out for every patient who presents with a fever, so what should be the trigger for a suspected case? (PHE and CDC have published useful algorithms to help with this, but it’s not straightforward.)

One area of controversy is the appropriate protocols for terminal decontamination following a case of Ebola. Clearly, the most important risk in terms of transmission is direct contact with blood or body fluids from infected patients. However, despite being an enveloped virus, Ebola can surface on dry surfaces for days to weeks under some conditions in laboratory studies. Furthermore, transmission has been associated with indirect contact with contaminated environments. For example, in a recent report from the field, inadequate use of PPE for dealing with surfaces that were grossly contaminated with body fluids from confirmed cases was identified as one of the risk for acquisition. So, we need to make sure that contaminated surfaces are dealt with appropriately, and most hospitals that have dealt with cases outside of West Africa have used hydrogen peroxide vapour for terminal decontamination.

There is a suggestion today that the epi curve may be peaking in Liberia, which is the epicenter of the outbreak in West Africa. Even if that is the case, we can still expect to see more repatriations to developed healthcare systems and perhaps more cases showing up at our hospitals. So, we need to make sure we do everything in our power to prevent secondary in-hospital transmissions.

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