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Is Ebola still scary?

With the word Ebola all but gone from the front pages, and the actual disease seemingly beaten back from our borders, one has to wonder if it’s okay to relax. Have we won the battle against one of the ugliest superbugs known to man?

Safety folks—a skeptical bunch by nature—say nope, now’s not the time to take the silence for granted. Ebola is still lurking out there, and it’s a still a big problem in Africa. As we have learned, all it takes is a plane ride to introduce the virus to healthcare facilities in the U.S.

We took a good look at the issue in the April issue of Briefings on Hospital Safety, and experts had quite a bit to say about what you should be doing to prepare your facility during this lull in Ebola activity. Here’s a taste of what they had to say:

Don’t drop your guard. Be glad it’s quiet, because the alternative (which includes both patients and healthcare workers suffering awful and dramatic deaths) is quite a nightmare scenario. Ebola should be something that is always prepared for. Triage questions that seek to determine an incoming patient’s travel history and symptoms should always be asked. Training sessions that practice proper PPE and response should be required for all staff, no questions asked.

There’s still no sign it’s going airborne. That’s extremely good news, especially considering a large part of the media hysteria surrounding Ebola centered on the question of whether the virus could go airborne somehow. The CDC still says no. What does that mean for healthcare workers? They aren’t likely to see a planeload of 250 passengers come in with symptoms of Ebola. It also means PPE and protocols don’t have to change much.

Keep practicing. Now is not the time to relax your protocols, intake procedures, or PPE. Nor is it time to let your supplies of equipment such as protective gowns, goggles, and respirators dwindle or lie dormant. If something requires batteries, check them to make sure they are working and that you have extras. And keep those training sessions going: make sure you are doing drills that challenge your staff, catch them by surprise so they can learn to work under stress while wearing PPE, and most of all, make sure they can learn to work as a team.

Plan for any hazards. You’ve more than likely heard this one many times by now. Your infection control planning as such shouldn’t focus on Ebola; rather, you should be focusing on the hardships your facility will face in an outbreak of any infectious disease. For instance, how will you protect your staff? How will you change the flow of patients into the hospital to ensure as few people as possible will be exposed? Is your media relations crew ready to handle the onslaught of misinformation that is likely to come out of the situation?