Hospitals: Ebola panic may have hurt preparedness for other outbreaks

79% of heath care workers say Ebola preparation reduced focus on preventing other infections

Many infection control experts feel that the time and resources spent preparing for potential Ebola cases in the United States left the health care system less prepared to fight outbreaks of other infectious diseases, according to a recent survey from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).

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The survey included 880 infection preventionists who work in inpatient acute-care facilities between Dec. 18, 2014, and Jan. 5, 2015. According to the survey, 14% of respondents believe their hospitals are well-equipped to handle an Ebola patient, up from 6% in October 2014. Overall, 98% of respondents said their hospitals were more prepared for an Ebola patient now than at this time one year ago.

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However, 79% of respondents said that their facilities' approach to Ebola prevention—including training staff on Ebola safety protocols like those for donning personal protective gear—reduced their hospitals' ability to prepare for other infections, like influenza or measles.

APIC President Mary Lou Manning says, "Infection preventionists and those working in infection prevention and control departments spend a significant amount of time on Ebola-related activities, and that has taken them away from the other critical daily infection control activities." The survey found that 63% of respondents thought their hospital had made no additional investment in prevention or infection control, despite the attention Ebola received.

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"The national reality and the conversation has really shifted from not just Ebola preparedness but to this broader issue of emergency preparedness in general, as it's related to infectious diseases, [yet] there doesn't seem to be a groundswell for committing additional resources," Manning says.

Manning adds that given the current resurgence of measles and the active flu season, infectious disease preventionists must do a better job of gathering relevant data to support their interventions (Johnson, Modern Healthcare, 2/3 [subscription required]).

The takeaway: While hospitals were busy preparing their facilities and clinicians for a possible Ebola outbreak this fall, many may have neglected important preparations for other infectious diseases—findings that are especially relevant given recent measles outbreaks and the active flu season.

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