APhA: Pharmacists are ready to help as infectious disease outbreaks sweep the nation


WASHINGTON — At a time when nearly every media outlet is covering Ebola, Enterovirus D-68, or a new outbreak of an infectious disease, the American Pharmacists Association is reminding Americans that the nation’s pharmacists are ready to help.

Whether it's getting your annual immunizations, learning proper hand washing technique or ask questions about the cold you've had for a few weeks, pharmacist are a great source of current public health information. When emerging public health issues arise, such as Ebola, Enterovirus D-68, influenza and other transmittable diseases, pharmacists help provide public health information and public assurance.

"As health care providers, pharmacists provide unique access to their patients, and have an important role to play in public health," stated APhA CEO, Thomas Menighan. "Over 270 million Americans visit a pharmacy every week, making pharmacists an accessible healthcare provider to help patients assess their particular health situation. The current public health concern is a lesson for all health care providers, including pharmacists, who may be the first to encounter a patient with symptoms that are consistent with a particular infectious disease. Asking the right questions provide the pharmacist with the opportunity to counsel and refer patients to appropriate care.

Pharmacists are a critical point of access to health care, especially in medically underserved areas," continued Menighan. "As public anxiety about Ebola and other infectious diseases rise in the United States, pharmacists will be both vigilant and reassuring as we continue to serve the public health needs of our communities."

APhA has informed its members of the CDC Guidelines for many infectious diseases, including two of major public health concern:

The CDC has said health care providers should take a travel history from any person who has symptoms of viral infection and should consider the Ebola Virus Disease in patients with a fever greater than 101.5° Fahrenheit, severe headache, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, or unexplained bruising or bleeding 21 days after traveling from Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, or Sierra Leone. Health care providers should immediately take infection control precautions and contact their state or local health department if they have questions.

Enterovirus D-68
Patients should be encouraged to wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds; avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; avoid close contact such as kissing, hugging, and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick, or when you are sick; cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or shirt sleeve, not your hands; clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick; and stay home when you are sick.  There are no vaccines for preventing EV-D68 infections. Children with asthma are at risk for severe symptoms from EV-D68 and other respiratory illnesses.

They should follow CDC's guidance to maintain control of their illness during this time:

  • Discuss and update your asthma action plan with your care providers;
  • Take your prescribed asthma medications as directed, especially long-term control medication(s);
  • Be sure to keep your reliever medication with you;
  • Get a flu vaccine when available;
  • If you develop new or worsening asthma symptoms, follow the steps of your asthma action plan. If your symptoms do not go away, call your doctor right away; and
  • Parents should make sure the child's caregiver and/or teacher is aware of his/her condition, and that they know how to help if the child experiences any symptoms related to asthma.

Pharmacists work in conjunction with physicians and other health care providers to optimize care, improve medication use and to prevent disease. To achieve the best outcomes for their condition, patients should maintain regular visits with all of their health care providers. APhA encourages patients to fill all their prescriptions with one pharmacy, get to know their pharmacist on a first name basis, discuss their medications with their pharmacist, carry an up-to-date medication and vaccination list and share all medical information with each of their health care providers. In addition, follow good cough and sneeze hygiene (i.e. sneeze or cough into your elbow), wash your hands, and stay home from school or work if you have cold or flu-like symptoms.

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