Tami Chappell / Reuters

CDC revises guidelines for treating Ebola patients

Designed to protect health workers, the stringent new protocols focuse on protective gear, rigorous training

The United States has issued stringent new protocols for health workers treating Ebola victims, directing medical teams to wear protective gear that leaves no skin or hair exposed when caring for patients infected with the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the long-anticipated updates on Monday evening. The guidelines were issued hours after 43 people who had had contact with the first U.S. Ebola patient passed the 21-day incubation period without showing signs of the virus and were removed from a watch list.

Under the CDC protocols, Ebola healthcare workers must undergo special training and demonstrate competency in using protective equipment designed to prevent their exposure.

The guidelines tighten “previous infection control guidance for healthcare workers caring for patients with Ebola, to ensure there is no ambiguity,” the CDC said in a fact sheet on its website. “The guidance focuses on specific personal protective equipment (PPE) health care workers should use and offers detailed step-by-step instructions for how to put the equipment on and take it off safely.”

The CDC calls training “a critical aspect of ensuring infection control.” 

The CDC guidance had been expected as early as Saturday, but its release was pushed back while being reviewed by experts and government officials.

The guidelines call for using single-use, full-face shields that are disposable, boot covers that are waterproof and go to at least mid-calf or leg covers, and other garb such as double gloves that leave no part of the body exposed.

Use of the gear must be overseen by a supervisor to ensure proper procedures are followed.

A key element is that no skin can be exposed by doctors, nurses or technicians taking care of a person infected with Ebola, which is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, like blood and vomit, putting health workers at particular risk.

The old guidelines for health workers, based on World Health Organization protocols, said they should wear masks or goggles but allowed some skin exposure.

The hemorrhagic fever is believed to have killed more than 4,500 people in the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. 

“Even a single healthcare worker infection is unacceptable,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a teleconference with reporters outlining the new regulations.

Health workers had been pushing for the guidance since two nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas were infected. They had treated Thomas Eric Duncan — the first person diagnosed with the virus in the U.S. — who died on Oct. 8.

Exactly how the two nurses were infected is not clear, Frieden said on Monday night: "We may never know exactly how that happened, but the bottom line is, the guidelines didn't work for that hospital." 

Al Jazeera and wire services

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