After an ambulance crew in Dallas was put at risk of exposure to Ebola, new protocols are being put in place to better deal with potential Ebola patients and protect first responders.
Last week, following recommendations from the Center for Disease Control, new policies were implemented across the nation. The procedures are designed to detect Ebola before patients are ever put in an ambulance.
Emergency operators must now electronically fill out an "Ebola card," asking callers who are experiencing Ebola-like symptoms a series of questions. The card is a checklist of questions that pops up on the dispatchers computer screen and is used to determine if a patient might be infected with Ebola, or if they have recently traveled outside the United States.
Dispatchers must then ask if the patient has been to West Africa in the past month. If they have, dispatchers are required to alert EMT crews before they leave on the call so that they can take adequate precautions. These include using gloves and masks, ensuring that workers do not come into direct contact with bodily fluids, and scrubbing trucks following transport.
Don Lundy, president of the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians which represents around 65,000 EMTs, says that technicians are now "taking heightened disinfectant precautions." Anyone experiencing even a fever has been checked out more thoroughly.
Lundy adds that many of the basic recommendations on the "Ebola card" are similar to procedures that were already in place.
"Departments had started taking the precautions months before because we just didn't know where patients may have traveled," he said.
Lundy compared this to fighting other outbreaks in the past, like AIDS or hepatitis, particularly when less was known about those diseases.
"It is the same as the AIDS epidemic where we didn't know what would happen."
Since the Ebola outbreak began earlier this year, doctors and EMTs have been asking patients if they have traveled to Africa. But now that patients have fallen ill in both the United States and Spain, the new measures were essential in order to prevent a repeat of what happened in Dallas - when Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan was released from the hospital after being misdiagnosed with a viral infection.
In Duncan's case, doctors at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital were not aware he had recently arrived from Africa; he was sent home with antibiotics. Two days later Duncan was rushed back to the hospital via ambulance. He is now in critical condition and being given an experimental drug.
Lundy also added that the measures give workers a sense of extra security.
"The worst thing you want is to create a panic in the medical community."
According to Lundy, since the recommendations have been put in place, there have been no reports of patients suspected of carrying Ebola.
According to the CDC, so far there have been around 7,400 confirmed Ebola cases. The disease has claimed more than 3,400 lives in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.