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Monday, 13 October 2014 05:00

Controlling the Virus

Written by  Vicki Thomas

Written By: Vicki Thomas

gloveThis past Sunday, a CBC radio program called The Sunday Edition featured an interview with Dr. Julie Jacobson, a doctor with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The topic of this interview was neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Dr. Jacobson discussed different NTDs and highlighted that Ebola does indeed fall into this category. She emphasizes in her interview how awareness, clean water supplies, and effective sanitation systems would go a very long way in helping to eliminate and reduce these NTDs.

Now for most of us here in North America, we don’t spend much time thinking about lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis and dracunculiasis. But with heightened awareness of Ebola and other contagious viruses, some awareness of how easily and quickly disease such of these spread is coming.

The recent and increasing news reports on the ravages of Ebola abroad and here closer to home have many folks starting to ask questions about preparedness and the measures that are supposed to be in place to protect front-line health care workers.

Now add in the recent deaths of six children (at the time of writing) of enterovirus D68 and the news these days is not really painting a pretty picture of the state of our readiness and ability to be protected.

The resounding questions surrounding both Ebola and enterovirus D68 in North America focus on how we can ensure that everyone involved is protected and safe. This includes the nurses, doctors, hospital staff, parents, friends, teachers and others who may knowingly or inadvertently come into contact with someone who is sick.

The simple and straight-forward answer is that which Dr. Jacobson emphasized in her interview on NTDs - awareness.

With enterovirus D68, a highly contagious virus that is causing severe respiratory illness and death in children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working hard to do just this. Most people don’t know of enterovirus D68 and those that have heard of it believe it to simply be a flu. Sadly, this rapidly spreading virus is causing muscle paralysis and severe bronchospasms in children. This virus can often lay undetected and be mistaken for a cold or simple flu - the key is for parents and others to listen for a high-pitched wheezing.

As is the case with Ebola here in North America, knowing the signs and symptoms are key to ensuring that both of these highly contagious viruses do not continue to spread.

Of course with Ebola, the majority of people assume that healthcare personnel in particular are taking the required precautions to protect themselves. But as we have learned with the recent diagnosis of a nurse in Spain and now the diagnosis of Ebola in a nurse in Texas - sometimes this simply doesn’t happen.

While hospital officials in Texas state that the infected nurse was wearing the required protective clothing while interacting with Thomas Eric Duncan, there is still concern that not all hospital protocols are being followed. From Second US Ebola diagnosis deeply concerning, health officials admit in the Guardian:

Hospital officials said the employee had worn full protective clothing during all contact with Duncan. Dr Tom Frieden, the CDC director, warned in a media briefing on Sunday that other hospital staff could also have been exposed to the virus and may show symptoms in the coming days.

“The healthcare workers who cared for this individual may have had a breach of the same nature,Frieden said. “It is certainly very concerning and it tells us there is a need to enhance training and make sure protocols are followed.

“The protocols work … but we know that even a single lapse or breach can result in infection.

It is so very easy to make a mistake when dealing with such contagious viruses such as Ebola and enterovirus D68 - as Teresa Romero, the Spanish nurse diagnosed with Ebola has highlighted. Romero thinks that while she was removing her protective suit she may have accidentally touched her face with one of her gloves.

A small mistake but one which can and does happen so easily. For those of us in the business of disaster recovery and business continuity - what can we learn from how these “surprise mistakes” are being handled?

In Texas and in Spain, we are seeing confusion and chaos. Neighbors are being contacted by police and being told “not to panic” - as we know the natural human reaction when told not to panic is to do the very opposite…. For now airport and border crossing screenings are being carried out with a degree of calm and control, the concern is what happens if someone who “passes” the screening is then later confirmed to be sick?

The only hope now is that officials at all levels have plans in place to deal with the eventual small mistakes and missteps that can add up to bigger and more severe results. And the key for us is to learn from these experiences:

  • Communicate often and honestly
  • Remember that mistakes can and will happen
  • Have a secondary plan
  • Don’t panic
  • Remember not to brush off the small details

The next time you’re struggling to get your team in a room to discuss updates to your business continuity plan, perhaps sending out these news articles about Ebola and enterovirus D68 will serve as a reminder of how vital it is to be knowledgeable and prepared: