As the current Ebola outbreak’s death toll continues to skyrocket, with almost half of all 2,288 deaths occurring within the last 21 days, the lack of sufficient medical personnel to treat all those affected threatens to spread the disease even further, as even the equipment used to keep safe from Ebola can carry the disease.
As Discovery News reports, the HAZMAT suits used by medical personnel to protect themselves while treating Ebola victims can carry the virus; it does not die upon leaving the body and landing on the protective gear. This means that, while doctors and nurses using protective gear can shield themselves from the virus while wearing it, the removal procedures and process of destroying used HAZMAT gear could result in someone inadvertently coming into contact with the virus.
As Discovery notes, the odds of a medical professional accidentally touching the outside of a used HAZMAT suit increase exponentially when the lack of resources forces these professionals to work long hours without a break. “The physical exhaustion and emotional fatigue that come with caring for patients infected with Ebola may further increase the chance of an inadvertent exposure to bodily fluids on the outside of the personal protective equipment, leading to unwanted contact when the gear is removed,” explain experts from Johns Hopkins and the University of North Carolina in the Annals of Internal Medicine. They add that much of the touching of HAZMAT suits results from working in extreme heat and wanting to remove uncomfortable sweat or respond to itching.
As of August, the World Health Organization warned that 170 health care workers had contracted Ebola. Discovery notes that over 120 health care workers have died of Ebola since the outbreak began in January. In Nigeria, only one patient who has died of Ebola– the first patient, Patrick Sawyer– was not a health care worker.
All four Americans diagnosed with Ebola have been medical workers. Two– Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol– have already been cured after being treated at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital. A third, Dr. Rick Sacra, is currently being treated in a hospital in Nebraska, and a fourth patient who has not been identified is currently receiving treatment at Emory University Hospital after being airlifted out of Sierra Leone. The World Health Organization has called the outbreak “unprecedented” and warned that the affected countries– Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, and Senegal– do not have adequate medical infrastructure to properly contain the spread of the virus.