Back in the 1980’s, it was AIDS. In the 2000’s, it was cancer. In 2009, it was swine flu. Every generation goes through a major public health scare, and must decide for itself how best to contain and cure the threat. Ours is Ebola — it has entered our news, our politics, our music and even our memes.

Since the West African Ebola outbreak this summer, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been raising funds and regulating everything in sight to stop the spread. It seems travelers from West Africa are quarantined for the slightest cough, though many later prove to have no symptoms at all. The CDC requires medical personnel to follow strict protocols regarding Ebola, including isolation procedures, hazmat suits, limiting contact, etc, yet the disease spreads. Eighteen cases are now reported in Europe and the United States as of Oct. 28, and the WHO projects 20,000 infections in West Africa by the start of November.

The problem is not a lack of regulation. It’s a lack of clarity and education about the regulations we already have. According to an article by Randall P. Carpentier, HEM, president/principle consultant for HealthSafe New England published Oct. 22 in Confident Voices Magazine, “From a risk, safety, nursing, human resources, quality, and industrial hygiene perspective, there was lack of clarity from government officials on effective protocols for triaging potentially Ebola infected patients from Emergency Room presentation to admission and isolation.”

Nina Pham, the first nurse from the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital to contract the disease, was not infected during unmonitored contact, but in the hospital itself, because she had received inadequate training on dealing with contagions, and did not have her hazmat suit on properly. Amber Vinson, who is now also Ebola-free, took ill the same way.

The CDC can request all the funding it wants, and make all the rules it wants, but until medical personal receive adequate training to follow existing regulations, Ebola will spread. To be sure, the protocols found on the CDC’s website constantly speak of education, but this talk is not followed through with action.

Relatively little is known about Ebola at present, and cures and vaccines are still in the experimental stages. Until more is known, the TJC nursing program will tread the issue lightly.

“Our program teaches only the standard precautions for all infectious patients,” said Prof. Jan Haley, coordinator of Associate Degree Nursing. “We do not have enough current, correct information to be specific about precautions for Ebola. This is still evolving. To reduce unnecessary risk, our policy for students from the School of Nursing and Health Sciences is that TJC students will not care for Ebola patients.”

The same goes for other local hospitals at this point.

“Our clinical partners like our Tyler hospitals also have a protocol in place that health care students will not be allowed to care for Ebola patients,” Prof. Haley continued. “We are doing this to keep patients, students and our community better protected from this threat. I am sure we as a healthcare profession will learn better ways to deal with this possible threat in the next few months. Perhaps then, our students will be taught specific protocols for Ebola and how to care for patients who have been diagnosed with this disease.”

Until then, TJC remains rightly committed to placing education as the highest priority. Jumping the gun on Ebola treatment has only endangered the caregivers as well as the patients, and no amount of extra regulations will solve that without proper training.

“I would just say that knowledge is power,” Prof. Haley concluded. “Just like in the national news, the more the CDC and physicians learn about Ebola, the safer they can provide care without exposing the caregivers. There is a lot of training going on right now to share best practice.”

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