WHO toughens standards for Ebola protective gear

Global health officials are raising their standards for protective gear worn by healthcare workers who treat Ebola amid growing fears that they are not properly protected from the virus.

Doctors and nurses are now told to double up on gloves and to wear gear in which their mouth, nose and eyes are “completely covered,” the World Health Organization announced at a press briefing in Geneva on Friday.

The tougher measures are a sign that the global health community is rethinking how to keep its ground soldiers safe while battling an outbreak that has infected more than 13,000 people.

The 10-page report comes after a two-day review of Ebola protective gear, which included feedback from on-the-ground responders, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials and Doctors Without Borders volunteers.

Both the CDC and Doctors Without Borders have already strengthened their rules for health workers, who face much higher rates of mortality than their patients in West Africa.

The United States released similarly strict recommendations earlier this month, when two health workers became infected in Dallas while caring for the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S.

The WHO guidelines also pointed to specific failings by the health officials who treated that patient, who died about two weeks after entering treatment.

In one direct reference, the WHO warned that health workers should not use tape to hold together their gear, which at least one Dallas nurse said was commonplace in her hospital before the CDC intervened. She also said nurses rarely had their necks covered — another new rule in the guidelines.

Still, the WHO stressed that personal protective gear could only prevent the spread of Ebola if workers are also meticulous with waste management and overall hygiene and sanitation.

“A thorough mandatory training on the use of [personal protective equipment] followed by mentoring for all users before engaging in any clinical care is considered fundamental,” the report says.