By Betsy Todd, MPH, RN, CIC, AJN clinical editor. (See also her earlier post, “Ebola: A Nurse Epidemiologist Puts the Outbreak in Perspective.”)
This is not a time to panic. It is a time to get things right.—John Nichols, blogging for the Nation, 10/12/2014
For years, nurses have tolerated increasingly cheap, poorly made protective gear—one result of health care’s “race to the bottom” cost-cutting. Now the safety of personal protective equipment (PPE) is being hotly debated as the Ebola epidemic spills over into the U.S.
If all nurses had access to impermeable gowns that extended well below the knee (and could be securely closed in back, had real cuffs, and didn’t tear easily); faceguards that completely shielded; N95 respirator masks that could be properly molded to the face; and disposable leg and shoe covers, we might not be having the same conversation. Yet how much protection can we count on from the garb we now have available, especially considering the minimal donning and doffing training given to most nurses?
While there is more to be learned about possible “outlier” modes of Ebola transmission, it’s pretty clear from past experience (including recent Ebola hospitalizations at Emory University Hospital and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where no transmission has occurred) that standard, contact, and droplet precautions will virtually always prevent Ebola virus transmission. Because of the theoretical possibility that the virus could be aerosolized during procedures like intubation or suctioning, airborne precautions are usually added. (And from what we’ve seen, they’re being followed routinely, and not used only during aerosolizing procedures.)
Many organizations, including National Nurses United, are calling for hazmat-type gear and PAPR hoods (powered air-purifying respirators, which are HEPA-filtered) for staff who care for Ebola patients. Because most nurses have not used these, this more complex gear presents new challenges, especially because of the potential for self-contamination when worn and removed by untrained staff.
Specific techniques for donning and doffing PPE are not new, but many nurses have never been taught to pay attention to these details. One has only to look at staff in a contact precautions room, only half covered by their untied gowns, to understand why resistant organisms continue to spread within hospitals. Many clinicians may not have believed that their cavalier attitude towards PPE had anything to do with the next patient’s nosocomial MRSA pneumonia. During this Ebola epidemic, though, we are quickly learning that the proper use of PPE is a matter of life and death—ours. Read the rest of this entry ?