It officially hit our shores last week; the first Ebola patient, a man just back from Africa, was admitted to a Dallas hospital. This was different than the few Ebola cases treated prior in the country. Those arrived on humanitarian flights in specially equipped aircraft with exceptionally trained crews. Medical professionals knew they were coming and what to expect. No, this one was different. This case arrived in the wild.

While I have no desire to stoke the inevitable hysteria surrounding such an event, it is a good time to take a look around and assess how prepared we may be in the workplace for a potential epidemic the likes of Ebola. Possible workers' compensation issues abound with an event such as this.

Late last week someone sent me some photos that should give us pause over just how equipped we are as a nation to face a communicable and lethal virus. These photos, along with telling stories surrounding the handling of the country's first Ebola patient, show us there is room for concern. We've learned that over 80 people, including schoolchildren, had direct contact with the man prior to his diagnosis. We know that he was initially misdiagnosed and sent home from the hospital with antibiotics. We were shocked to learn that Sheriff's personnel delivered court paperwork to his family ordering their quarantine while wearing no protective gear themselves.

And then came the pictures:

This one, showing cleanup at a potential exposure sight. Please note the rolled up sleeves on the haz-mat suit that one worker is wearing.

Kinda defeats the purpose, don't cha think?

Then a news channel found these workers cleaning up apparent vomit outside the victim's apartment.

I realize that Ebola is not an airborne illness. It is transmitted by direct contact with bodily fluids. Experts do say that the virus can live on surfaces “for hours”, but insist that the only known way to contract the disease is direct contact with an infected person.

Still, trained medical professionals in Africa contracted the highly contagious disease despite precautionary measures. And would you want to be the one wearing no protection while cleaning the vomit of an Ebola victim with a pressure washer?

Ebola is not the flu. It has a mortality rate exceeding 50% among those who contract it. While a full blown epidemic, such that seems to be occurring in some parts of the third world, is less likely here, employees must be trained and proficient at required protection measures to insure that remains the case. Sloppy habits and poor training can kill in a situation like this. Whether you work in an office, a school or in the medical community, you should be aware of both risks and protocols surrounding exposure to bodily fluids and blood borne pathogens.

This is nothing new, but now suddenly seems much more urgent. Look around. Check with your staff. Talk to your co-workers. Would you know what to do if our unfortunate Dallas patient worked in your office?

Is your workplace ready for Ebola?

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