Ebola has fallen off the front page in recent weeks—the public’s new fears of the measles has taken its place—but the memory of a healthcare worker in Dallas contracting the virus from a patient is still fresh in the minds of those working in the healthcare and emergency responder industries.

To help public-safety answering points (PSAPS) and Emergency Medical Services safely respond to patients who potentially could have Ebola, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to update its guidelines that were first published last fall. Last month, the CDC also released a helpful flow chart.

The recommendations, called the “Interim Guidance for EMS Systems and 9-1-1 PSAPS for Management of Patients Under Investigation (PUIs) for Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the United States,” have been updated regularly to reflect the lessons learned over time.  

It was always unlikely—but not impossible—that an EMS provider would encounter an Ebola patient. Drew Dawson, who is the director of the federal Office of EMS, said he hopes other changes, such as improved screening at airports, will make it even less likely. Still, vigilance is needed, he said.

“Hopefully, the system in place will result in fewer calls to 911, but PSAPs still need to be prepared,” Dawson said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications in December. Dawson’s office served as a subject-matter expert during the development of the guidance.

The CDC updated the provision on personal protective equipment (PPE) in early December, introducing a tiered approach that offers two levels of protection.

If the patient is not bleeding, vomiting or experiencing diarrhea, a minimum level of PPE is recommended. This includes a face shield or surgical mask, impermeable gown and two pairs of gloves. But, if the patient is exhibiting those symptoms of Ebola, EMS personnel should wear the higher level of protection.

“What it realizes is that EMS providers and dispatchers and PSAP call-takers will probably receive many more calls of persons who think they are experiencing the symptoms of Ebola than they will Ebola patients,” Dawson said.

“So the levels of PPE really are adjusted accordingly. It’s not reasonable to expect that everyone has all of the PPE all the time.”

The most recent revision of the guidance appears to have updated the terminology, changing “a patient with suspected Ebola” to PUI (patient under investigation).