Ebola: alarmist by exaggerated protection?

Physicians criticize the use of level-4 protective suits by foreign physicians in West Africa

Researchers at the US Centers of Disease Control (CDC) in Monrovia, Liberia, checking their protective suits. © CDC
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Unnecessary scaremongering? When foreign doctors treat Ebola patients or travel in the Ebola areas of West Africa, they often wear maximum protective gear. But that is unnecessary, as doctors now criticize in the journal "Lancet". Because Ebola is not transmitted through the air, so such a full protection rausgeschmissenes money and also fuel only panic in the population.

The contrast is huge: most local doctors and many helpers in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and the other countries affected by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa only work with simple protective coats, gloves and a thin paper mask - if that. Because there is a lack of money and material for more. Members of the Ebola patients usually do not even have this minimal protection.

Level 4 protection unnecessary

In contrast, foreign health authorities often send their medics with protective suits of the highest security level to the Ebola areas. These suits have their own air supply and have an overpressure inside to prevent the ingress of contaminated air. But such suits are actually meant for pathogens that can spread across the air, as Jose Martin-Moreno of the University of Valencia and his colleagues explain. Ebola does not do exactly that.

"Ebola's main route of transmission is through contact with a patient's body fluids - blood, vomit, or feces, or injuries from contaminated needles, " the researchers said. Therefore, simple masks, goggles, gowns and gloves are absolutely sufficient to prevent infection. Only when working in the laboratory or in situations where droplet spraying is imminent, such as during intubation, more protection is needed, says Martin-Moreno.

Masks, goggles, plastic gowns and gloves are enough to protect even the most bleeding patients. Here in Lagos, Nigeria. CDC / Sally Ezra

Panic and disinformation

For the people of West Africa, the sight of helpers in level-4 protective suits is neither helpful nor reassuring, according to the researchers quite the contrary. It increases the panic and anxiety in the population and can lead to more people fleeing the infection areas and thus spread the disease. Because the suits suggest that protect against an Ebola infection only these extreme measures. display

This, however, can lead to failure to comply with important, simple hygiene and protective measures - for example, the simple avoidance of direct skin contact and contact with body fluids, the researchers say, Despite the danger of the Ebola virus, even a mask is only necessary if the patient is bleeding or vomiting.

"In West Africa, we urgently need a more efficient and rational approach to protective equipment, " say the researchers. "More is not always better at controlling such infections and very often even the simplest solution is the best one." (The Lancet, 2014; doi: 10.1016 / S0140-6736 (14) 61343-X)

More information and updates on Ebola can be found in our special: Ebola - a plague is spreading

(Lancet, 03.09.2014 - NPO)