The recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa and the isolated cases within the United States are a reminder of the concern for responder safety. There is an expectation that every first responder should regularly practice the standard or “universal” precautions before having patient contact. However, particularly concerning the Ebola Virus, the CDC has recommended that PSAPs take responsibility for screening callers for risk factors and notify responders of such before arrival on scene. This
recommendation poses the question of whether further efforts should be made to mitigate the risk of exposure to new or emerging infectious diseases.
The World Health Organization defines an infectious disease as an illness caused by microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi. The disease can be directly or indirectly spread from one person to another. Exposure may also occur from animal to human. The term “emerging infectious diseases” refers to diseases of infectious origin whose incidence in humans has either increased within the past two decades or threatens to increase in the near future. Diseases such as Ebola, pandemic Flu, and Tuberculosis fit this classification.
The normal role of a call taker is to perform a high level risk assessment, initiate a response, and provide instruction to ensure scene safety. Scripted protocols provide the structure for the early detection of risk factors and guide the immediate intervention. This method of call processing has proven to significantly enhance response and has increased the measures for the preservation of life and public safety. However, previously the focus of call handling has been on the recognition of priority symptoms or factors that pose an immediate risk. Screening for the risk factors associated with the exposure to infectious diseases slightly shifts this focus.