Health Officials Ramp Up Measures Against Ebola

Ebola fight continues as officials move for safer burial practices for victims, additional personal protective equipment and better preparedness

(RxWiki News) Despite recent decreases in new Ebola cases in hard-hit Liberia, the fight against Ebola isn't over. After recent case spikes in Guinea and Sierra Leone, health officials have taken several new measures to combat the virus both abroad and in the US.

Among the new measures are new burial protocols for Ebola victims in West Africa and a boost to personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors who may treat Ebola patients in the US.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for increased preparedness in non-Ebola-affected countries to treat Ebola if it crosses their borders.

"The best protective measures for non-affected countries are adequate levels of preparedness, including heightened surveillance to detect and diagnose cases early and well prepared staff and operational planning to ensure that suspect cases of Ebola are managed safely and in ways to minimize further spread," according to a recent WHO statement.

WHO also says countries should use information campaigns to educate travelers about Ebola, its symptoms and who is at risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is taking steps to improve Ebola readiness in the US. On Nov. 7, the CDC announced that it has ordered $2.7 million worth of PPE. This additional PPE is meant to help US health workers in the event they receive Ebola patients.

PPE includes helmets, goggles, body suits and other gear meant to protect health care workers from contracting Ebola when treating infected patients.

Health care workers face a risk of contracting Ebola when treating infected patients — Texas nurses Nina Pham and Amber Vinson both became infected when treating a Liberian man in Dallas — but those in West Africa also face an infection risk when they bury their family members who die from Ebola.

That's why WHO released new guidelines Nov. 7 for burying Ebola victims.

"At least 20 percent of new Ebola infections occur during burials of deceased Ebola patients," said Ebola expert Dr. Pierre Formenty in a WHO press statement. "By building trust and respect between burial teams, bereaved families and religious groups, we are building trust and safety in the response itself.”

WHO reports that many of these infections may occur when family members perform religious rites on the bodies of their family members. Those bodies still carry Ebola. In some parts of West Africa, both Muslim and Christian burial processes can involve touching the body.

WHO's solution? Team up with other organizations — like the World Council of Churches — to come up with a solution that both respects the burial process for families and reduces Ebola infection risk.

“Giving the family an opportunity to view the body of the deceased, ensuring that the grave is appropriately labeled, and allowing religious leaders to offer prayers and family members the option to throw the first soil — these are important incentives for encouraging families to continue to find strength in their faith, and to keep other family members safe from becoming infected,” said Rev. Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, of Caritas Internationalis, in a WHO statement.

Many of the changes in the new burial protocol stress respect. For instance, WHO says burial teams shouldn't wear PPE when first meeting the family of an Ebola victim.

"As the protocol is applied in affected countries, feedback from religious leaders, communities and people managing burials will be used to update and improve the protocol," according to the WHO statement.

Ebola can cause Ebola virus disease. This often fatal disease is marked by symptoms like high fever, nausea, vomiting and unexplained bleeding. In the current outbreak in West Africa, the virus has killed nearly 5,000 people and sickened more than 13,000.

The virus is only contagious through the blood or other bodily fluids of infected patients. Even then, patients can only spread the virus when they are showing symptoms.

Review Date: 
November 10, 2014