Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) or simply Ebola, is a hemorrhagic fever believed to have originated in bats and initially transmitted to humans through contact with infected animals, probably from the consumption of bushmeat. There are five strains of Ebola, four of which are known to cause EVD in humans. The current outbreak is linked to the most severe strain, Zaire ebolavirus, and is the largest epidemic in recorded history and the first to primarily hit West Africa. The countries most affected are Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Nigeria and Senegal also had several reported cases but authorities there have confirmed that the outbreak within their borders is contained.
In the workers’ comp arena, insurers both locally and nationally face unprecedented exposures should the outbreak spread within the United States and reach local communities. Louisiana, as a major export state and tourist destination, should be on guard for potential infections. Although they caution that the possibility is highly remote, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued a set of guidelines designed to help certain classes of workers understand their risk and have referred health and lab workers to the OSHA bloodborne pathogen guidelines. The CDC points out several specific industries in their alert: healthcare workers, first responders, lab workers, humanitarian workers, mortuary workers and airline employees.
If your organization insures companies in the healthcare or airline industries in Louisiana, useful resources are available to aid preparedness efforts.
For healthcare and hospital workers, refer to the Table Top Exercises (TTX) and Situation Manual issued by the Kentucky Hospital Association for the treatment of confirmed or suspected Ebola cases here.
For airline and cargo personnel, the CDC advises that: “A U.S. Department of Transportation rule permits airlines to deny boarding to air travelers with serious contagious diseases that could spread during flight, including travelers with possible Ebola symptoms. This rule applies to all flights of U.S. airlines, and to direct flights to or from the United States by foreign airlines.” Additionally, they have provided protocols for disinfecting surfaces to avoid transmission. Access those resources here.
Locally, New Orleans resident Rene Van Slate, the USAID senior humanitarian adviser of the U.S. Pacific command, reported back to her community this Thursday at a local library. She recently returned from Monrovia, Liberia where she assisted with building treatment units, mobile labs for disease testing and a training program for a team of health care workers. Van Slate discussed aid efforts, how treatment centers and protections for health workers are implemented, and the history of the outbreak. Get full coverage of her talk from NOLA.com here.
In the United States at large, President Obama has pledged resources and aid to the afflicted populations of West Africa as the human and economic toll from the disease continues to rise. However, since the undetected arrival of an infected Liberian man in Dallas, the troubling facts surrounding his treatment, and his recent death, Americans are increasingly concerned about the nation’s preparedness to face a potential outbreak here at home.
The federal government has announced new precautions to prevent a similar situation, instituting non-contact temperature screenings for all travellers entering the U.S. through five major airports from the three hardest-hit countries. The five airports (Kennedy International, Washington Dulles International, O’Hare International, Hartsfield-Jackson International and Newark Liberty International) account for 90 percent of all travellers entering the country from West Africa.
Ebola is not airborne and, contrary to popular belief, is not as easily transmittable as many other viral infections. An infected individual must display symptoms to be contagious and transmission to another person requires direct contact (via mouth, nose, or cuts on the skin) with the bodily fluids of the patient. Symptoms initially mimic the common flu and include: fever above 101.5, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and severe internal and external bleeding and bruising. Bleeding is a hallmark sign of advanced EVD (though not in every case) and some patients may haemorrhage from the eyes, mouth and other orifices. There is no vaccine and treatment depends entirely on early supportive care and rehydration as the body’s immune system fights the virus. Patients who survive Ebola and recover develop antibodies known to last at least ten years.
Image Credits: Huffington Post and the New York Times