Aid the sick but protect yourself

Dec 15, 2014 by Keith Murray

I have found that most people are willing to help someone when they require medical assistance. There are, however, concerns that we have when thinking about saving another person’s life.

One of the big concerns becoming infected by the other person’s blood, saliva or other bodily fluids. In dealing with first aid emergencies involving bleeding, assume that every drop of another person’s blood is infectious and use caution. Protect your hands with gloves and your eyes with safety glasses.

One of the latest bloodborne threats is ebola. It’s difficult to turn on the television or pick up a newspaper and not see a story on this bloodborne disease. But ebola is not new. In 1976, ebola (named after the Ebola River in Zaire) first emerged in Sudan and Zaire. The first outbreak infected 284 people, killing more than half of them.

Here are ways to protect yourself against ebola and other bloodborne pathogens.

* Always wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and glasses.

* Always wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and avoid contact with blood and body fluids such as but not limited to saliva, vomit, feces, urine, and semen of a person who is sick. Viruses can enter the body through broken skin or exposed mucous membranes such as the eyes, nose, or mouth.

* Avoid handling anything that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids (such as clothes, bedding, needles, and medical equipment).

* Isolate anyone exposed to someone with ebola, seek medical care and monitor for 21 days. Think quarantine; do not expose others.

* Should the victim die, avoid touching the body.

When teaching an onboard First Aid class, students often ask how to tell if someone is sick with ebola, HIV/AIDS or hepatitis? My answer is to assume everyone is sick and use universal precautions: wear your PPE for everyone you treat.

When I teach a class on a yacht or on land I suggest that all of my students keep several pair of medical exam gloves near their work areas. If you work in the engine room of a boat, have them close by. If you work at a desk, have gloves in the drawer. If you move about, try to keep a pair on you, with your tools, or attached to your radio or even clipped to your belt. I also advise my clients to have gloves, safety glasses and a CPR mask at various points throughout the vessel for quick retrieval by any crew member.

Personally, I keep a small first aid kit with medical exam gloves, safety glasses and a CPR mask in my car, on my boat and at my home. If there were a medical emergency I am certain that I could quickly retrieve my first aid kit and safely help the injured person.

PPE does not need to be expensive. Inexpensive safety glasses can be found for just a few dollars. Make certain the safety glasses wrap around and cover both the front and sides of the eyes. You want to protect your eyes from any bodily fluids that could potentially come into contact with your eyes.

With performing CPR, our primary piece of safety equipment is going to be a barrier device or CPR mask. Personal resuscitation masks will enable you to provide artificial respiration through a barrier that prevents contact with saliva and other bodily fluids. These barrier masks are relatively inexpensive and range in price from about $15 to $25.

If you get caught without a barrier device and need to perform CPR, the compression-only method is the way to go. When you see a victim collapse, check for breathing. If they are not breathing, you will press down at least 2 inches on the center of the victim’s chest at a rate of at least 100 times per minute. You should try to do this until help arrives or the victim starts to breath.

Being prepared is the key to making most medical emergencies have a happy ending. It starts with onboard crew CPR and First Aid training, having the right medical/first aid equipment including an AED, properly placing medical exam gloves, safety glasses and CPR masks throughout the ship (including the tender, dinghy, and PWC), periodic inspection to make certain the equipment is still in proper working order and safety drills to reinforce what to do in the event of an emergency.

Keith Murray, a former firefighter EMT, owns The CPR School, a first-aid training company. He provides onboard training for yacht captains and crew and sells and services AEDs. Contact him at 877-6-AED-CPR, 877-623-3277 or Comments on this column are welcome at