A sane guide to Ebola for Nurses

Stories - Sign Panic CalmIt seems everyone is talking about Ebola right now. You can’t swing a stethoscope without hitting someone who is scared of it, opining about it, or just plain ignorant of the facts.

In fact, I saw on Amazon the other day a complete hazmat suit that is being advertised as an Ebola protection garment. They suggest duct taping the rubber gloves to the suit to avoid contamination.

Okay, let’s step back. What is this disease really about, and do we need to be worried enough to buy protective suits off the internet?

The short answer is: probably not, but as nurses, we need to understand a bit more about the disease before writing it off as paranoia. It has killed people, but how dangerous is it really?

General Signs and Symptoms

Like other infectious diseases, Ebola has an incubation period where symptoms are not noticed. This period can last from 10 to 21 days, and is part of the reason why it spreads so quickly.

Initial symptoms are flu-like, such as muscle fatigue, joint aches, fever, and vomiting, among many other non-specific symptoms. It can easily mimic a case of the measles, making it difficult to diagnose in the first few days of active symptom manifestation.

When Ebola finally differentiates from other diseases is in the late phases. Symptoms of this time include bleeding from all orifices and bloody diarrhea.

Methods of Infection

It may be hard to believe, but the exact reservoir of Ebola is not known or entirely understood. It’s a bit irresponsible, considering this disease has been known of since 1976.

Most bodily fluids are considered contaminated, such as blood, sweat, saliva, semen, fecal matter, urine, and sputum from an infected person. In addition, blankets and linens used by an infected person are considered contaminated until processed.

Another way of getting Ebola is to eat the flesh of a contaminated animal. This may be the reason that the disease has taken off in Africa with citizens consuming bush meat.

Caring for Patients with Ebola

It is our job to protect patients from the spread of Ebola, but honestly, we’ve dealt with diseases that are transmitted in this way before. AIDS, hepatitis B, and other blood borne diseases are, therefore, as transmittable as Ebola.

This means using standard precautions for people who have the disease or are suspected of having it. Don’t come into contact with bodily fluids without barriers, such as gloves, gowns, and eyewear.

You don’t need a hazmat suit, really, to take care of someone who has Ebola. When AIDS first became an epidemic, everyone was afraid of it until the rules of transmission were generally known by the public.

It also stands to reason that Ebola will be contained and treated in the same way as other fluid borne diseases. As nurses, we are dedicated to universal precautions, anyway.

This disease is not airborne, which means you don’t need a mask like you would with TB or other diseases. In that, we, as a public are lucky, because we already know how to treat diseases that are transmissible in the way that Ebola is.


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