Thursday, October 2, 2014

What Ebola Taught Us About Wound Care Safety

Most of us know now that Ebola can be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids. Because of this, it’s important to be cautious as we care for open wounds. While Ebola does not pose a significant risk in the United States at present, the threat of Ebola can help us become more intentional about how we care for wounds in general. Many other common diseases also spread through contact with open wounds. The possibility of an Ebola outbreak can remind us to renew our vigilance when dealing with any open wounds.

The most basic protection when dealing with open wounds includes covering your own body to prevent infection. This is especially important if you have open wounds or scratches. But even with basic coverings like gloves and gowns, diseases can still spread to if you use flawed protective materials. If your gloves are flimsy and tear while in use, their protection is useless. Encourage your workplace to invest in strong gloves that fit appropriately on you hands. Thin gowns that allow bodily fluids to seep through the material can also be dangerous. If the clothing you wear while treating open wounds is too porous, use thicker, more impermeable material.

Even while using the best protective gear, infection can still occur. One nurse who fell ill from Ebola linked her sickness to the moment when she removed her personal protective equipment. Since she was no examining the patient, she grew careless. Healthcare providers should remember that even if the patient you are treating is no longer nearby, your protective equipment can still pose a threat to your health. Remove it carefully, with as little contact with the exterior surface as possible. Always wash your hands immediately after discarding your gear.

Another risk for healthcare workers that Ebola has reminded us of is infected needles. Several doctors and nurses who worked with Ebola patients were infected by the accidental scratch of a used needle. Since needles slide easily through many materials, it’s easy to get infected this way, even while wearing protective clothing. Be especially cautious around used needles and discard them immediately after using.

While the likelihood of contacting Ebola in the US is relatively low, our heightened awareness brought on by the threat can lead to safer wound treatment. Wear protective gear and discard it carefully after use. Be especially careful around sharp objects, including needles. Torn protective gear is useless.