Nurses play major role with patients in Ebola epidemic

Eileen_WP

Eileen P. Williamson, MSN, RN

Characterized by the World Health Organization as one of the world’s most virulent diseases, Ebola was first identified in a 1976 outbreak in Africa in what was then Zaire. That outbreak remained the deadliest until this one, which the CDC calls the worst in history. The U.N. estimates it will take $1 billion to contain it and there’s widespread fear that it’s going to be difficult to stem the growing tide.

But there also is widespread human caring and concern for victims around the world, and many from around the world are responding. WHO has deployed staff and the CDC has activated its Emergency Operations Center and is looking at airport screening protocols. The U.S. has announced “Operation United Assistance” and is sending several thousand Army personnel to Africa to coordinate security measures for healthcare workers in treatment centers. And, of course, nurses are getting involved. We share stories about the work of nurses in African hospitals that is nothing short of heroic and also looks at what they are doing right here at home.

Whenever outbreaks like this one occur, nurses have protocols and procedures to review and information on precautions, transmission and treatments to share with staff. They and their teams need to be ready to give patients who may have Ebola everything they need. This is an unprecedented teaching moment for nurses, and their top priority is teaching vigilance and preparedness. Flu season emphasizes this priority, as nurses need to be prepared to ask and answer questions that can differentiate between early symptoms caused by flu and those caused by Ebola — and alleviate fears of patients.

The public is concerned about medical care and treatment, investigative and trial medications and the status of research on possible vaccinations. As long as travel is not restricted, they will look to nurses for information on precautions, exposure risks, susceptibility, infection surveillance and more. We have much of the information they seek and we can help clear up misconceptions, debunk myths and lessen fears.

Our profession continually ranks at the top of public opinion polls in honesty, trust and having high ethical standards. We value this and take seriously the professional obligations they bring. We’re aware of the ethical issues involved in this healthcare crisis, but we know nursing professionals will take the cause on and move through it together. We’ll work to face each challenge as we care for patients on three continents.

The need for nursing preparedness in regard to infectious diseases cannot be minimized. In fact, we also address severe acute respiratory syndrome in a continuing education module and ask nurses to keep up to date on news and training on all infectious diseases.

There’s a thought-provoking quote from the 1985 movie, “Out of Africa,” I think might help us along the way: “Perhaps … the Earth was made round so we would not see too far down the road.”

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