Outbreaks of infectious diseases offer lessons for critical care providers

Outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as Ebola in West Africa, offer insight for how healthcare professionals can respond more effectively to current and future challenges, according to editors of the American Journal of Critical Care (AJCC).

Editors-in-Chief Cindy Munro, RN, PhD, ANP, and Richard H. Savel, M.D., address "Viral Outbreaks in an Age of Global Citizenship" in their editorial for the January AJCC issue, reviewing recent outbreaks and reflecting on the frontline role of critical care providers.

"Outbreaks reinforce the importance of critical care knowledge, skill and teamwork in uncertain situations," Munro said. "Infectious diseases have always posed risks for healthcare providers, and it's our duty to use all our knowledge and skills to protect ourselves, our patients and the public, and to prepare for future challenges."

The current Ebola virus disease outbreak follows other threats to global health from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic.

"Viral diseases do not respect international boundaries. We are global citizens, and we cannot view illnesses as geographically distinct problems that don't concern us," Munro said. "It behooves us to pay attention to global healthcare problems and to be ready to respond."

Today's risks are mitigated by better understanding of pathogenesis and transmission, by the availability of personal protective equipment and by the knowledge and skills of critical care providers. Preventive efforts and supportive care associated with viral outbreaks require high levels of infrastructure and provider knowledge and skills. Outbreaks highlight the importance of the basics as a foundation for clinical practice, according to the editors.

Hand washing, personal protective equipment and pristine techniques honed by practice remain central to infection control and interrupting transmission of viral pathogens. Safety requires both individual effort and exceptional teamwork, including taking accountability for helping colleagues in adhering to infection control protocols.

The editors also call for research to improve understanding of animal sources of potential pathogens and zoonotic transmission, as well as surveillance of viral pathogens in animals, calling it "vital to prevention of future outbreaks."

SOURCE American Association of Critical-Care Nurses

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