Why EMS should take Ebola preparation seriously

We may assume we're well prepared to contain a possible outbreak, but it's definitely worth the few minutes to review the basics of infection control

A little over a decade ago, the Toronto EMS system experienced what is probably the first well-documented assault on its workforce by an infectious agent that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The illness strained its resources and taxed its ability to respond to service calls.

A lot was learned from that event, including the need to have a pre-existing emergency plan, screening for patients and personnel, adequate personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, and most importantly, the necessity of rapid, accurate communication regarding an outbreak among the workforce.

Fast forward to today, and we are seeing the application of lessons learned: the Centers for Disease Control has issued a series of guidelines for EMS systems to prepare for, and potentially react to the surfacing of the Ebola virus in their communities.

The question is, will systems respond appropriately?

It's relatively easy to downplay the issues and place preparation on a back burner. Given the state of the U.S. public health system, we could assume that we are well prepared to contain any possible outbreak.

While most likely true, it's not absolute. Given how freely people move around the world, the opportunity for an infection to take hold in a local community is significant. It is definitely worth the few minutes to review the basics of infection control, use screening tools to identify potential infections, and practice emergency response plans in case an outbreak does occur.

Operations should make sure that adequate PPE and cleaning supplies are available for patient care activities and decontamination. We should be working closely with our public health friends to stay apprised of any risk level, whether national, regional or local. 

We are on the front line of the American health care system, and we must recognize our role as gatekeepers for the system. By the way, have you had your flu shot yet?

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