Consider that the plague or infamous “Black Death” raged for upwards of 200 years. It spread from China throughout Europe, killing approximately 100 million or roughly 60 percent of the population. Now ask yourself if first responders, hospitals, and health care providers are prepared with basic protective clothing to stave off the next plague, Ebola outbreak or “Disease X” pandemic?
The hard facts are that the various plagues were virtually unstoppable pandemics that were grossly misunderstood for hundreds of years. The bubonic plague, for example, was commonly referred to as a “pestilence in the air,” despite the fact it was a bacterial disease transmitted by fleas bites after contact with infected rodents. And once infected, the pneumonic plague was then transferred by simple coughing. Until it was effectively treated with antibiotics, the Black Death was the most feared Disease X of its time.
Outbreaks of the Ebola have become increasingly rare. But this former Disease X remains challenging to diagnose in its early stages. Transmitted from animals such as monkeys, gorillas, and fruit bats, among others, it infects humans and spreads from simple bodily contact. Like the plague, there is an effective treatment but no cure for Ebola. Although no longer a mysterious Disease X, only personal protective equipment (PPE) can prevent health professionals responding from organizations such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and others from contracting the contagion.
If there is a single terrifying theme that runs through these and other lethal infectious diseases, it’s that communities throughout history were ill-prepared to deal with the next Disease X pandemic. And that begs the question: Are we ready today?
Preparing First Responders for Disease X
In the U.S., the Occupation Safety Health Administration (OSHA) has issued stringent guidelines about the necessity of first responders to have readily available PPE. Recognizing that first responders are “emergency employees,” OSHA rules take into account the potential for personnel to come into contact with biological agents.
According to OSHA guidelines, choosing the appropriate PPE is usually based on expected hazardous materials. These are generally modified after making a thorough assessment of realistic, day-to-day working conditions. The proper PPE choice may involve respiratory gear, and adequate layering to insulate workers from exposures from materials such as nuclear, chemical, or biohazards.
While this seems like a type of catch-all mandate, are first responders necessarily prepared for the next Ebola outbreak or Disease X pandemic? In all likelihood, they would need to carry protective clothing that stops infectious contact and prevents airborne pathogens from infecting them. A secure PPE would require the following.
- Double-Taped Wrist Connections
- Large Protective Gloves
- Oversized Zipper that can be Managed while Wearing Protective Clothing
- Abrasion-Resistant Materials for Negotiating Difficult Environments
- Chemical and Biohazard Resistant Materials
- Suits that are Easily Accessorized with Air Filtration Apparatus
- Boots and Shoe Covers that can be Seamlessly Secured over Pants
What’s uniquely compelling about the duties of first responders is that they routinely enter an environment without knowing the gravity of the situation. Their initial contact could result in a fatal outbreak of the next Disease X if not adequately protected. By carrying PPE in the trunks of their vehicles and suiting up before entering a biologically hostile space, they could take the first step toward stopping a deadly plague.
Preparing Frontlines Hospital Personnel for the Next Ebola
The sudden and unpredictable outbreaks of Ebola in Africa have put countries around the world on high alert. The danger is allowing Ebola to spread globally after international hospital workers are inserted to treat the sick. What is particularly risky about Ebola is that people who have contracted the often fatal disease may not show symptoms immediately. That means they could carry Ebola, or possibly the next Disease X, unknowing through international airports.
One of the significant differences from hospital workers is that they often have knowledge about the nature of the contagion that they are combating. That may seem like an advantage over first responders who charge into hazardous conditions. Unfortunately, the hospital administrators admit that many facilities lack a comprehensive plan to deal with the next Ebola outbreak or unknown nature of a Disease X. The CDC provides the following critical protocols for possible Ebola outbreaks.
- Rapidly identify and triage patients with relevant exposure history.
- Immediately isolate any patient with relevant exposure history and signs or symptoms.
- Take appropriate steps to adequately protect staff caring for the patient, including proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The CDC mandates steps that can be best understood as Identify, isolate, inform, and gather the necessary resources to combat an outbreak. But the ground-zero hospital workers remain at the highest possible risk of contracting the next Ebola or unknown Disease X. The only thing between hospital personnel falling prey to these deadly airborne and bloodborne pathogens is the protective clothing they are wearing.
Preparing Health Care Providers for High-Consequence Infectious Disease (HCID)
The CDC agrees that PPE remains a crucial defense against health care providers contracting the deadly diseases they are treating. Although many workers carry out tasks in recovery and critical care units, the heightened threat remains present.
In this environment, bloodborne pathogens present a heightened danger for nurses and laboratory workers. These health care professionals are tasked with routinely drawing and performing blood analysis. Even a single needle prick or droplet spatter can result in infection and spread of an HCID. That’s why the CDC mandates the following PPE guidance for health care workers during the patient management phase.
- Comprehensive HCID Training.
- Donning and Doffing of Appropriate PPEs
- Protective Clothing that Securely Covers all Skin
But in order for a health care professional to be safe and secure in these disease-hostile facilities, it’s essential that the PPE meets the necessary standards. Even leading scientists cannot predict the capabilities or nature of the next Disease X. But industry professionals are well aware of providing only rigorously tested and high-quality PPE to key stakeholders.
Protective Clothing Standards to Prevent a Disease X Outbreak
Personal protective clothing must meet the demands placed on it by a wide range of scenarios. First responders may find themselves climbing through windows or carrying victims to safety who are unknowingly infected. For them to complete their shift safely, PPEs must be tear-resistant.
Hospital workers at mobile frontlines positions also may face unpredictable environmental conditions. Although not expected to undertake rigorous physical activity, protective clothing must stand up to long shifts and prevent skin-to-skin transmissions at all costs. And the more controlled environments of treatment and recovery facilities face the risk of punctures and blood splatters as well as airborne transmissions. The CDC has testing protocols in place to ensure protective clothing can weather the disease storm.
The CDC requires that PPE undergo ASTM 1670, and ASTM 1671 testing to determine if it meets the standards to deter bloodborne pathogens from penetrating materials. The process involves consistent liquid contact with protective clothing. The basic test determines if the protective clothing stops synthetic blood seepage. Products that do not meet CDC certifications place people at unnecessary risk.
Today’s first responders, hospital workers, and health care providers deserve the best possible protection because no one knows when the next Disease X will strike or the inherent risks it carries. International Enviro Guard produces top-tier protective clothing and gear that exceeds CDC standards. These protections may be the best line of defense at deterring the spread on Disease X.