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Fatigued medical teams face increased risk of contracting Ebola

Monday, October 20, 2014 by iformat Developer

Over the past few weeks, the risk posed by the spread of Ebola has become increasingly serious. The World Health Organisation has provided numerous media updates and fact sheets on the deadly disease and they have predicted more than 20,000 people will be infected by early November with a confirmed 4,500 deaths to date. 

I was reading an article on this topic written by Brenda Goodman, MA at WebMD Health News and noted several salient points. Of course medical professionals treating patients with Ebola face a risk of contracting the disease, but this can be greatly increased due to the lengthy hours they spend in uncomfortable protective suits in an attempt to control infection. Unfortunately, fatigue contributes to the risk of transmission because mistakes are made when you aren’t thinking clearly.  Additionally, healthcare workers are wearing goggles, rubber boots, and surgical gloves on top of the heavy and hot protective suit.

Joseph Fair, PhD, a molecular virologist with the Department of Defence in the USA, gave an example of a worker who has completed a 10-hour shift. They haven’t eaten, so they are low on energy, but suddenly they get an itch on their nose, “without thinking you reach up and scratch your nose. And damn, you’ve had an exposure.” The article goes on to say many health workers are not showing up to work out of fear. Of course this then places even more strain on the staff on duty to work longer hours.

Fatigue impairs you as if you are drunk or taking sedative drugs. In fact, studies show 17 hours without sleep impairs your alertness in the same way as having a blood alcohol level of 0.05 per cent. Of course these studies weren’t conducted with people wearing a protective rubber suit and a mask, so goodness knows how increased the impairment could be under these conditions. Fatigue is an obvious ‘occupational hazard’, but the discomfort of the Hazmat suits must make work more challenging. Even removing the Hazmat suit after an extended shift becomes complex – especially when you are fatigued.

At Optalert we are familiar with the risks of fatigue. Our primary role is helping customers remove fatigue-related incidents. The scientifically-proven Johns Drowsiness Scale (JDS™), which measures fatigue on a scale from one to 10, could have a role to play in the fight against further spreading of the disease. The significant work which has gone into Optalert’s wearable technology over the past 20 years could possibly benefit these medical professionals. Any additional protection to stop the spread of Ebola should certainly be considered. The U.S. government has just purchased 160,000 Hazmat suits so clearly there is growing concern about the disease spreading to the west.

Let’s hope the brave professionals putting their lives on the line get as much assistance and support as possible.


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