Humanity’s fight against bacterial and viral pandemics started a while ago and while we have significantly improved on how we control, prevent and treat diseases, things could be better—as seen with the Ebola outbreak in 2014.
The bubonic plague, also known as the black death wreaked havoc in Europe in the mid-1300s, taking the lives of almost 50% of the continent’s population at the time, and the lives of between 75 – 200 million people worldwide. Centuries later, in 1918, the Spanish influenza came and it killed hundreds of millions of people all over the world.
Since then, the world has battled with one pandemic after the other and experts believe that it is only a matter before another contagion—one that may be deadlier than Ebola—attacks life on earth. If this is so, then we have to be better prepared than we were in 2013. Here are some of the areas that need improvement:
1. First Responders.
Most outbreaks start with someone or a group of people and most of the time, this person or group of people seek the help of a health practitioner. Whether or not a disease will spread—and how fast it will spread—depends on that first responder. If they recognize the disease for what it is, they may quickly arrange to quarantine the infected and offer them anti-viral treatment.
The only problem is: most epidemics start as everyday sicknesses. The 1918 flu started with coughing and Ebola started with vomiting and diarrhea. As a result, unless the first responder has received enough training on how to recognize and handle a viral contagion, they won’t know what they’re facing until it’s too late.
Training of health workers in clinics and local hospitals is of paramount importance. If these people take the right steps, there will be no pandemic and many of the remaining points in this post may not even be needed.
2. Develop/Improve Contact Tracing System.
Contact tracing is the process of identifying and diagnosing all the people that may have come in contact with patient zero i.e. the first carrier of a viral infection. Before Patient Zero meets the first responder above, they must have spent some time around a number of people from where they live to the bus/cab/train they took to the hospital. At the hospital, they may have come in contact with one or two people before they met the doctor or the nurse.
Contact tracing is quite complex and it involves considering all possibilities and chasing down all leads. It requires constant, effective and coordinated communication between the infected, health workers and the community at large. With a contact tracing system that works, potential patients are identified and diagnosed before they start to show symptoms of infection, making them easier to quarantine and treat.
3. Improve Public Awareness.
When Ebola broke out in West Africa, there was mass hysteria and the people did everything except the right things. People that had come in contact with infected patients denied having ever met them and ran into hiding, making contact tracing virtually impossible. When people got sick, they hid it from those close to them, and self-medicated.
The actions of the people in Africa showed one thing: they did not have enough information about what was going on and they did not know that it was safer for them and their loved ones to seek medical help than to hide from quarantine.
During an outbreak, the authorities need the help of the citizens to get things under control and this isn’t possible if the people have not been thoroughly informed about which practices are smart and which ones will lead to more death.
4. Improve Containment and Treatment Measures in Local Hospitals.
Many of the hospitals in developed countries are not equipped to quickly detect, assess, and report a potential outbreak and fewer still have measures in place to prevent domestic—and eventually, global—spread. In developing and underdeveloped countries, things are much worse.
The W.H.O. must find a way to convince governments all over the world to improve on their health infrastructure before another epidemic breaks out.
5. Provide Medical Personnel with Adequate Protection.
Patients need to be treated and to do so, medical personnel must wear protective gear that insulates them completely from infection. If not, the infection may spread throughout an entire hospital and that outcome is surely too grave to consider.
International Enviroguard provides protective gear and suits for healthcare personnel who oversee the quarantine and treatment of infected patients. ViroGuard® 2 has been designed with healthcare workers’ input to meet the CDC guidelines for caring for patients with Ebola or other highly infectious diseases.