What's a hospital supposed to do if an Ebola patient shows up?

Story highlights

  • Hospitals should ask whether a patient traveled to an Ebola-affected area
  • Patients suspected of having Ebola should have their own room and a private bathroom
  • Putting on protective gear in the right order is critical
  • CDC director: Even a "single, innocent" slip in protocol can result in contamination

(CNN)First, a Texas hospital came under fire for releasing a sick Liberian man without testing him for Ebola. He later became the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States and died from the virus.

Then, a nurse who treated the man at the same hospital also came down with Ebola. A top health official said a "breach in protocol" led to that infection.
So what's the protocol for health care workers if they suspect a patient has the virus that has already killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa?
    Go through the checklist
    Signs of an Ebola infection include fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain or bleeding, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    But a key clue is whether the person traveled to an Ebola-affected area -- such as Sierra Leone, Liberia or Guinea -- in the past three weeks.
    That's because the symptoms of Ebola can take anywhere from two to 21 days to show up.
    Isolate the patient
    Once Ebola is suspected, the patient should get his or own room, with a private bathroom, the CDC said. And the door to the hallway should remain closed.
    Hospitals should maintain a log of everyone who enters the room, the agency said.
    It's also a good idea to keep someone stationed at the patient's door to make sure everyone going in is wearing the right protective equipment.
    Get the right gear
    At the very least, those who enter the patient's room should wear gloves, a gown, eye protection and a face mask.
    Sometimes the situation calls for more precautions, such as wearing disposable shoe covers, leg covers and two layers of gloves.
    Those extra steps are needed if there is vomit, human waste or "copious amounts of blood" in the room, the CDC said.
    Know the right order
    It's not enough to just have protective clothing; putting it on in the right order is just as important.
    "The dressing and undressing of (protective wear) should be supervised by another trained member of the team," the World Health Organization advises.
    After donning scrubs, health care workers should put on either boots or closed, water-resistant shoes with overshoes.
    Then a waterproof gown should go over the scrubs. If one isn't available, wear a waterproof apron over a gown.
    Next come the face mask, goggles and a head cover, if available.
    Finally, after washing their hands, health care workers should put on gloves over the sleeves' cuffs.
    Keep visitors out
    It may seem obvious, but it's important to keep visitors away from the patient's room.
    "Exceptions may be considered on a case-by-case basis for those who are essential for the patient's wellbeing," the CDC said.
    Keeping visitors away doesn't just protect them; it also protects hospital workers, patients and others in case the visitor may have contracted Ebola, too.
    Those who do visit should be screened for fever and other symptoms.
    All this may seem tedious. But every precaution matters, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said.
    "The care of Ebola can be done safely, but it's hard to do it safely," he said. "It requires meticulous and scrupulous attention to infection control, and even a single, innocent, inadvertent slip can result in contamination."