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VOL. 129 | NO. 217 | Thursday, November 6, 2014

MERI Trains First Responders for Ebola Readiness

By Don Wade

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When in doubt, disinfect the gloves yet again.

During a training session conducted by a certified industrial hygienist, first responders learned step by step the procedures for putting on – and taking off – protective suits, gloves, boot coverings, face masks and splash shields in the event they have to come in contact with a person who may have Ebola.

Industrial hygenist Nick Ridge demonstrates the procedure for putting on and removing a hazmat suit at an Ebola outbreak response training session at MERI. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“It can be tedious,” said Lt. Ron Royal of the Shelby County Fire Department. “But if it keeps me, my crew and my family safe, I’m gonna go for it.”

For several days this week, Nick Ridge of Ridge Environmental Solutions Inc. has been conducting training sessions at the Medical Education & Research Institute (MERI) in Memphis. On Tuesday, Nov. 4, first responders with Memphis, Shelby County, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown and Millington fire and/or police departments participated in the training. So did employees from the Shelby County Health Department.

The Ebola outbreak has been concentrated in the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. But the case of Thomas Eric Duncan, who died in Dallas last month after traveling back to the United States from Liberia, prompted the Centers for Disease Control to tighten guidelines given to health departments and hospitals regarding a coordinated response to the deadly infectious disease.

Two nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital were diagnosed with Ebola after caring for Duncan. Both nurses have recovered, but even nurse Nina Pham’s dog was quarantined for three weeks before being released back to her.

The hooded “moisture repellant” polyethylene suits that people were wearing during training at MERI should cover all exposed skin. More suits have been ordered – they cost anywhere from $12 to $20 each – because some did not adequately cover the neck area. Just a couple of weeks ago, officials at a Memphis-area hospital took precautions because a patient displayed Ebola-like symptoms; it turned out to be another disease.

Before putting on one of the suits, Ridge’s first instruction is to inspect each one for “breaches.” The first responders then apply disinfectant to their hands, put on their “inner” gloves, then the suit, then boot coverings, and then masks. Then comes a second pair of “outer” gloves held in place with tape.

“Now while you’re in there working,” Ridge tells them, “don’t put your hands to your face.”

When it’s time to take everything off, they first disinfect the outer gloves, then remove the boot coverings, disinfect the outer gloves again, remove the face shield, then the outer gloves, disinfect the inner gloves, unzip the suit touching only the inside portion of the suit, and take it off; a partner, who is also in full protective clothing, may have to assist.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Then the inner gloves get another application of disinfectant and are removed. Then the disinfectant is applied to the hands, and a fresh pair of gloves is put on to be worn while taking off the respirator. Then shoes are cleaned, gloves are removed, and the first responder is cleared to go shower.

Dr. Michelle Taylor, an emergency preparedness physician with the Shelby County Health Department, was familiar with these techniques, but said, “You can never practice too much.”

She also understands that the American public is still a little confused about Ebola.

“There’s a lot of misinformation,” she said. “It’s very difficult to get Ebola. You have to come in direct contact with somebody’s bodily fluids.”

The virus cannot be transmitted by air or water, but contaminated needles or medical equipment, for example, could serve as pathways for transmission. Ebola only spreads, the CDC says, when patients have symptoms, which include a lot of symptoms similar to flu symptoms: fever, headache, diarrhea and vomiting, among others.

The first responders receiving the training at MERI will now go back and train people at their respective departments. Royal says the training is helpful beyond a possible Ebola contact.

“Anytime you’re dealing with an infectious patient, you can use this,” he said.

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