(The contents of this blog are for information purposes only. You are advised to seek expert professional assistance and guidance before taking any actions.)
The world paid scarce attention to yearly Ebola outbreaks in West Africa. It stuck, a few people died and that was it. The world moved on. This time the outbreak has been severe and the world has suddenly woken up to this new menace to society.
To put things in perspective, we should know what we are dealing with. Ebola is a deadly virus with a mortality rate of about 80% (there are varying figures on mortality rates). Fortunately, it is not an airborne virus. Ebola is spread by coming in contact with body fluids of an infected person. The main body fluids which spread the infection are:
- Body secretions
If possible till things settle down, avoiding travel to West Africa is the best course of action. If this is possible, it is the safest way to avoid the risk of getting Ebola. However, business needs may require personnel to travel to such areas. Staff should be advised of CDC mandated basic precautions which have to be taken when traveling to endemic areas. The basic precautions are:
Avoid Endemic Areas:
Before leaving you should check the website of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and follow the advice given in the site.
Wash/Disinfect Hands Frequently:
This is the easiest precaution to follow. Frequently wash hands with soap and water or by using a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. Make sure hands are scrubbed and thoroughly cleaned. Since dirt can get stuck under fingernails, ensure that fingernails are trimmed. When washing hands, special attention has to be paid to the area under fingernails.
Avoid Crowded Places:
As far as possible it is best to avoid crowded places. Unwittingly, you could come into contact with an infected person. Therefore, any mingling for business or social events should be kept to a minimum. Avoid shaking hands if possible r should be kept to a minimum. Fist bumps may be preferable, but local customs could dictate that this would be insulting and should be avoided if it Social kissing is strictly taboo. It is best to avoid any meeting with a person who has fever or any symptoms of Ebola, unless the virus has been ruled out.
Paying Respects to the Dead:
At times, a business contact may have died from Ebola. A corpse is highly infective. It is best to warn staff members to pay respects to the dead only from a distance or, even better, offer condolences to the deceased person’s family members by phone. They should be instructed not to touch dead bodies or act as ‘Pall Bearers’. This function should only done by trained personnel with protective gear.
Obey Directions Given by Health Authorities:
Health authorities may give advisories from time to time. These directives should be obeyed immediately. If you discover that you have a fever, body ache etc., seek medical help immediately. If you develop such symptoms after you return, inform the authorities immediately. Make sure you inform the authorities that you had visited an endemic country in the recent past. This will help them to put control procedures in place and ensure that the possible contagion is limited.
When the staff member safely returns, the threat of Ebola has not gone away completely. There is a window period of twenty one days in which the symptoms can emerge. In most people, if infection does occur, the symptoms will manifest itself between 8 to 10 days. All staff who have returned from an endemic area should carry out routine self-checks for symptoms such as:
Fever greater than 101.5 ˚F
- Severe headache
- A feeling of malaise
- Weakness and muscle pain
- Diarrhea and/or vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Any unexplained bruising or bleeding
If a staff member does experience such symptoms, or even if he has a suspicion that he is not well, he should keep himself isolated from the rest of the family and call 911. He should also inform the office about his possible infection. When calling 911, the staff member should clearly state that he has been to an Ebola endemic area and he suspects he has been infected. This will ensure that only trained medical staff with full protective gear will attend to him.
Encourage a staff member with suspected infection to list out all those who has come into contact with him since his return. He should also give the authorities details of his flight back home. Tell him to list out those with whom he has had contact in the endemic country. This information can be passed on to the company’s business contacts in that country so that the authorities there can take preventive action. Since all his possessions will be sealed, the staff member should upload all data in his laptop to the cloud or as per the guidelines of the company’s disaster recovery plan.
Recovery from an Ebola infection depends on good supportive care that the patient receives during the infective period. It also depends on the person’s general state of health and immune response. A person who survives an Ebola infection will have immunity from the virus for an estimated period of 10 years post infection. Though there is no treatment per se for Ebola, there is hope on the horizon. An experimental drug that has been developed is being fast-tracked through regulatory processes and will be available in the market in about a year’s time. Another method of treatment is to boost the patient’s immune response to the Ebola infection by giving him the plasma of a patient who has survived the infection. The anti-bodies in the plasma will stimulate the body’s immune response to the infection. It has been tried successfully in a couple of cases. This line of treatment is limited due to the availability of donors. There are many unknown factors with this disease. Please check with a healthcare professional before you make any decisions.
Company Policy on Travel
This may be a good time to re-evaluate company travel policies. While the threat of getting infected during travel is very small according to experts, it is prudent to be cautious. The first question to be asked should be “Is the trip to the region really necessary?”. If the trip is not made, what will be lost? Are any potential losses worth the risk? If they are but the employee does not want to travel – what should be the policy? If an employee travels to the infected regions, when they return should they be allowed to work from the office or should they work from home.
These are just a few questions that come to mind. Each business should develop their plans according to their needs. Once plans are formulated, then it should be clearly communicated to the entire business so that everyone is on board.