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Are hospitals prepared to protect health care workers from Ebola?

As the growing health crisis caused by the Ebola virus continues to spread and infect thousands, until recently, residents in the U.S. were fairly certain they had nothing to worry about. Just this week, however, the man who was considered to be the first U.S. Ebola case died from the virus. Questions and concerns are now being raised not only about how to prevent the deadly virus' spread in the U.S., but also about the safety of health care workers.

With symptoms that initially mimic those commonly associated with influenza, the Ebola virus progresses to induce "vomiting, diarrhea, impaired organ functioning, internal/external bleeding and death," in those infected. Based upon statistical data compiled by the Federation of American Scientists, the mortality rate for those infected with Ebola is believed to be between 50 to 90 percent.

The virus is readily spread when an individual comes into contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. This contact, however, can be either direct or indirect as the virus can live outside a host for a period of time. Given the ease with which the virus is transmitted and its lethalness, U.S. health care workers are especially at risk for exposure.

In response to the growing concern about a possible U.S. Ebola outbreak, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has provided recommendations for how hospitals and other health care facilities can protect everyone from doctors and nurses to front desk workers and janitors. These recommendations include information related to the training and education of health care workers, use of protective gear and equipment, room cleaning procedures, emergency procedures and communication protocols.

As the U.S. braces for more possible cases of Ebola, officials within the health care industry must take steps to protect health care workers from possible exposure to the deadly virus. Hospitals that fail to do so will not only endanger the lives of individual health care workers, but also the lives of patients and members of the public.

Source: OSHA, "Ebola," 2014

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