DALLAS (Reuters) – The United States issued stringent new protocols on Monday for health workers treating Ebola victims, directing medical teams to wear protective gear that leaves no skin or hair exposed to prevent medical workers from becoming infected.
The new guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta come as 43 people who were exposed to the first patient diagnosed in the United States were declared risk free, easing a national sense of crisis that took hold after two Texas nurses who treated him contracted the disease.
Under new protocols, Ebola healthcare workers also must undergo special training and demonstrate competency in using protective equipment. Use of the gear, now including coveralls, and single-use, disposable hoods, must be overseen by a supervisor to ensure proper procedures are followed when caring for patients with Ebola, which is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids but is not airborne.
The haemorrhagic fever has killed more than 4,500 people, mainly 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.
The old guidelines for health workers, based on World Health Organization protocols, said they should wear masks or goggles but allowed some skin exposure.
More than 40 people exposed to the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States, Thomas Eric Duncan, emerged from isolation with a clean bill of health on Monday.
Among those released from monitoring on Monday were the only four individuals quarantined by official order – Duncan’s fiancée and three other people who shared an apartment with him in Dallas before he was hospitalised. Duncan died on Oct 8.
Texas officials said 120 other potentially exposed people in the state, more than half of them medical workers who had contact with Duncan after he was hospitalised, were still being monitored for Ebola symptoms for the remainder of a 21-day incubation period.
That group includes the two nurses who became infected while treating him at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, presumably because they were wearing flimsy protective gear that left some of their skin exposed.