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The Role of Pharmacists in the EVD Outbreak

By: Azia Tariq, Section Editor

Reported in March 2014, the current Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak has become the deadliest outbreak of its kind since the disease’s initial discovery in 1976. As of April 24, 2015, the epidemic has spread to numerous countries across West Africa including Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone resulting in 10, 839 total deaths and 14,913 laboratory-confirmed cases.1

With at least four laboratory-confirmed cases in the United States, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has collaborated with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other domestic and international organizations to create the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Establishment of the EOC will help the CDC and WHO to facilitate assistance and control activities with partners in order to contain the outbreak. In addition, the CDC has deployed teams of public health experts to West Africa and will continue to send them to the affected countries.1 As one of the first points of contact for patients and the community at large, pharmacists can play a pivotal role in educating patients, promoting disease prevention, and referring any suspected cases in a timely and safe manner to appropriate healthcare facilities.2 This is a critical role as prevention and preparation are the keys to halting contagious diseases. Patients may be overwhelmed by all of the information on the current Ebola outbreak in the media. Pharmacists, who come into contact with a large number of patients daily, can dispel any fears and misconceptions and provide accurate information on the Ebola outbreak, prevention, transmission routes, and management of the Ebola virus.

With the Ebola virus outbreak reaching as far as the United States, pharmacists are being given new responsibilities to address the issue of this pervasive disease. Vivian Johnson, Vice President of Pharmacy Services at Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas, stated that the department is presently evaluating the medication-use process, from procurement to administration, and making changes needed to safely care for patients with EVD. Parkland’s critical care pharmacists, in addition to the staff of the Methodist Richardson Medical Center and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, are currently on call to provide clinical care and distributive services for the emergency biocontainment unit established in light of the EVD epidemic. In addition, a formulary has been developed for the biocontainment unit and the processes of prescribing and reviewing medication orders are being assessed.3

Prevention and preparation for the epidemic are essential not only for the general public, but also for healthcare personnel in the clinical setting. Hospital formularies and guidelines play a key role in this endeavor. U.S. hospital-based formulary managers and pharmacists are tasked with the responsibility of educating healthcare staff about EVD, its symptoms, and the risk of transmission in the hospital care setting. There are several important aspects to consider when treating an EVD patient. Healthcare providers can be exposed to the virus via direct contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected person through objects such as needles and syringes contaminated with the virus. This necessitates staff to wear personal protective equipment including gowns, goggles, face shields, facemasks, and gloves.

Other appropriate infection control measures include disinfecting surfaces, frequent hand washing, and the proper cleansing, sterilization, and disposal of medical instruments. Formulary managers, physicians, and other healthcare professionals must ally together to devise work practices that can detect individuals possibly infected with EVD or other infectious agents. Such work practices can aid in reducing the impact of an infection with an Ebola virus strain on the hospital, its staff, and its patients, as well as subduing EVD outbreak throughout the community.4


  1. 2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa. CDC. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/2014-west-africa/. Updated 04/24/2015.
  2. Ebola: What can pharmacists do about it?. FIP. Available at http://www.fip.org/ebola. Accessed April 26, 2015.
  3. Traynor K. Investigational drug services aid Ebola response. ASHP. Available at http://www.ashp.org/menu/News/PharmacyNews/NewsArticle.aspx?id=4128. Accessed 04/26/2015.
  4. Schwenker G. 5 ways formulary managers can brace for Ebola. Modern Medicine Network. Available at http://formularyjournal.modernmedicine.com/formulary-journal/news/5-ways-formulary-managers-can-brace-ebola?page=0,0. Published 10/03/2014. Accessed 04/26/2015.

[pubmed_related keyword1=”ebola” keyword2=”virus” keyword3=”disease”]

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