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Your Environment. Your Health.

Providing Worker Training to Improve Our Nation’s Infectious Disease Preparedness

Alexander (Alex) Isakov, M.D.

September 20, 2017

Alex Isakov, M.D.

Isakov was the 2016 recipient of the Keith Neely Outstanding Contribution to EMS Award from the National Association of EMS Physicians, recognizing his work to improve preparedness and competency to manage patients with infectious diseases.
(Photo courtesy of Alex Isakov)

In 2014, NIEHS grantee Alexander Isakov, M.D., played an instrumental role in transporting and caring for two American aid workers who had been infected with Ebola virus disease, which is highly infectious and often fatal. Isakov worked with an interdisciplinary team at Emory to ensure that the Ebola virus did not spread, making certain that healthcare staff, visitors, and other patients were protected from contracting the disease. Due to the efforts of this team, both patients fully recovered.

Today, Isakov, an emergency medicine physician at Emory University, is leading efforts to improve nationwide infectious disease preparedness, especially for first responders.

"Managing infected patients requires effective education and training, so workers can do their job safely," said Isakov. The decision to accept and treat the Ebola patients at Emory University was based on confidence in the staff's preparedness, including 12 years of training in managing highly infectious diseases.

Isakov's experience has opened his eyes to two important needs for preparedness: 1) disseminating best practices for management of infected patients, and 2) providing education and training for workers who face risk of occupational exposure to these diseases.

Leading efforts to train first responders

Isakov is now leading the Emory University Ebola Biosafety and Infectious Disease Response Program (Emory IDR), an effort to help workers prepare for, and prevent, the spread of current and emerging infectious diseases. The program is part of the broader NIEHS Worker Training Program (WTP) which includes eight awardees focused on nationwide infectious disease and response training for a wide range of occupations, including health care providers, laboratory technicians, janitors, garbage handlers, first responders, morticians, and others.

The Emory IDR program focuses on providing training to first responders. These workers are considered to be on the frontline, as they are typically the first ones called to deal with critical and emergency situations. "First responders who work in emergency medical services, health care facilities, and public health practice are at risk for exposure to highly infectious diseases," said Isakov. "By delivering education and training to these workers, we hope to create an improved capacity for them to not only safely manage patients, but also protect themselves and others from exposure to infectious diseases."

Emory IDR instructors

In the picture above, Emory IDR instructors teach a group of first responders how to properly put on and take off PPE during a March 2017 training session.
(Photo courtesy of Jonathan Rosen)

emory idr instructors teach first responders

Emory IDR instructors facilitate hands-on training for first responders. In the picture above, first responders walk through a hands-on demonstration to learn how to safely transport patients with serious infectious diseases, while protecting themselves.
(Photo courtesy of Jonathan Rosen)

Emory IDR program instructors have a broad range of expertise and first-hand experience managing patients with infectious diseases. The instructors provide targeted training for workers on how to:

  • Properly put on and remove personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • Prepare an ambulance to safely transport a patient while protecting surfaces from contamination;
  • Recognize risks and use strategies to safely manage infected individuals; and
  • Implement standards and precautions to prevent contact with infectious bodily fluids.

In its first year, the Emory IDR program provided hands-on training for more than 600 workers in frontline professions throughout Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Post-training feedback revealed that the training sessions were useful in providing information to help the workers manage patients, protect themselves, and better recognize, and respond to, infectious hazards. For example, workers reported increased knowledge of protective measures, as well as specific infectious diseases. Workers also valued opportunities to practice procedures, such as how to put on and take off PPE.

Building partnerships to advance national preparedness

To increase capacity to offer their training, Isakov and his team are building collaborations with private and public partners in southeast states. For example, Isakov and his team are currently working with two private sector partners, American Medical Response and Air Methods Corporation, to make an online, one-hour Clinical Biosafety Awareness Course part of their mandatory training and education requirements. The team is also working with public partners such as the South Carolina Greenville Health System and the Florida Department of Public Health to broaden the reach of their training. These collaborations could potentially facilitate hands-on and online infectious disease training for more than 30,000 workers.

"The more broadly we can disseminate this education and training, the more prepared we'll be as a nation," said Isakov. "Although the Ebola outbreak was the primary impetus for our program, the training will have an impact on managing many other infectious diseases. This will help our nation be better prepared for the next epidemic or pandemic."

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