Since Thomas Duncan was diagnosed and subsequently died of Ebola last month, the disease has been the subject of national and local news coverage. Although there are no confirmed cases of Ebola to date here in Arizona, it is crucial that dental professionals are knowledgeable about the disease and stay up-to-date with infection control protocol.
Are Dentists & Office Staff At Risk?
Dental professionals may be at risk because Ebola is spread through human secretions, which includes saliva. There are no reported cases of Ebola transmission in dental settings and due to the lethal nature of the disease it is unlikely that someone with Ebola symptoms will seek dental care. This, however, does not mean that dental professionals are able to let their guard down.
How Can Dental Professionals Limit Their Risk?
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that dental professionals take a medical history, including a travel history, from patients with symptoms in which a viral infection is suspected. Specifically, the Division of Science suggests adding the following questions to existing health questionnaires:
- Have you traveled to Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea in the last 21 days?
- If yes, when did you arrive into the U.S.?
- Are you feeling feverish?
Any person within 21 days of returning from the West African countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea) may be at risk of Ebola and may not show symptoms. For this reason, dental professionals are advised to delay routine dental care until the patient has been in the U.S. for more than 21 days.
What Are the Symptoms of Ebola?
The most common signs and symptoms of Ebola infection are:
- Fever (greater than 101.5°F) and severe headache
- Muscle pain
- Stomach pain or unexplained bleeding or bruising
My Patient is at Risk for Ebola. Now What?
If a patient is feeling feverish and their travel history indicates they may be at risk of Ebola, dental professionals and staff in contact with the patient should:
- Immediately protect themselves by using standard precautions with physical barriers (gowns, masks, face protection and gloves)
- Call 911 on behalf of the patient
- Notify the appropriate state or local health department authorities
- Ask the health department to provide your staff with the most up-to-date guidance on removing and disposing of potentially contaminated materials and equipment
It is important to know that Ebola is not considered contagious until symptoms appear. The virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids and not through air or by water, or by food. Awareness and staying up-to-date on infection control are an important part of prevention.
Where Can I Get Additional Information?
Here are some additional resources on Ebola and potential impact on dental offices:
- ADA Statement and Ebola Resources
- CDC Recommended Infection Control Practices for Dentistry
- CDC Evaluating Patients for Possible Ebola Virus Disease: Recommendations for Healthcare Personnel and Health Officials
- CDC Health Care Provider Preparedness Checklist for Ebola Virus Disease
- OSAP Ebola Toolkit