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The story of William Pooley was in headline news a few months back and it was announced that he has been released from the Royal Free Hospital. For those of you who are not familiar with the details of this story or simply require a refresher.
William Pooley was a nurse treating victims of the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. After several other western doctors and nurses contracted the disease he was advised to leave but choose to stay. He was in due course infected himself and was brought back to the UK to receive treatment. He has now made a full recovery and has been discharged from hospital.
His story raises several testing points relating to infection control. First and foremost Ebola is a virus without a know cure. The experimental drug ZMapp that Mr Pooley received is believed to help the patients system to fight back but even that is not confirmed at this stage. Therefore by the very nature of their work medical personnel are horrifically exposed to this disease. The infection rate rises exceptionally during any outbreak and this puts huge strains on the medical staff. Furthermore Ebola like most Viral infections initially presents itself as flu symptoms, which unfortunately any human being can think himself or herself into having, meaning additional strain on resources as each suspected case must be tested. As a result medical personnel become tired, which will lessen their immune systems defences and more importantly leading to judgemental errors. These can be fatal as simple mistakes can cause immediate infection.
Mr Pooley was transported back to the UK on a military aircraft. The simple truth is that the military is better prepared for a deadly outbreak, having faced the threat of chemical and biological warfare from the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Our civilian hospitals are understandable structured to deal with the most common health problems. For example most still have an Accident and Emergency Department. However the options for a case of Mr Pooley natural were slim. The Royal Free Hospital represents one of the few hospitals to have a high-level isolation unit.
Finally there are the other Western doctors who have been infected. Fortunately this particular strain of Ebola can only be transmitted once a host has become symptomatic however one doctor arrived home in Canada only to hear that two of his colleagues were being treated for Ebola. He put himself under quarantine as a precaution but has now been given the all clear. However contemplate if your dare the consequences had he passed through both European and North American airports while symptomatic.
The sad truth is that the phrase “infection control” is an admission that we have already failed, people are infected! Now what do we do about it? The answer, we control the infected (and by extension the infection) as best we can.
At the time of writing there are somewhere in the region of 3,000 confirmed cases recorded (and that number has been rising dramatically for the last few weeks) with the expected number of cases estimated to reach 20,000. Based on current trends a minimum of 51% of those infected will die, in a manner so horrific that it does not bear contemplation. Therefore I would ask readers to take a moment to reflect on how we can manage future tragedy of this scale, there is no doubt that disease will strike again but with effective infection prevention perhaps we can reduce the number infected.
What are BICSc doing? With the University of Northampton E-learning is available in Infection control Level 2 a course that looks at the scientific concepts, underpinning the production and maintenance of hygienic environments identifying and control of Hazards.
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