Ebola Virus Preparedness: Emerging Viruses and Ethics in Laboratory Medicine

Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2016 Feb;140(2):171-80. doi: 10.5858/arpa.2015-0134-RA.


Context: Emerging pathogens have affected, and will continue to affect, the health care system in diverse ways. Clinical laboratories face ethical challenges in responding to emerging pathogens. We use the 2014-2015 outbreak of Ebola virus disease as a model to explore some of the ethical issues in laboratory medicine related to emerging infectious disease.

Objective: To describe the major ethical concerns raised in the clinical laboratory environment by emerging infections.

Data sources: We assessed current guidelines and practices in the Ebola outbreak in developed-world clinical laboratories, reviewed risk assessment practices and the role of the clinical laboratory in providing care for patients with potential or confirmed Ebola, and reviewed the relevant literature on duty to provide care in the laboratory context.

Conclusions: Clinical laboratories in developed countries have to rely more on expert guidelines and theoretical risk assessments than on practice in less-developed areas. Risk minimization for clinical laboratory workers is essential but may conflict with the laboratory's duty to provide standard of care. Patients can be put at risk not only from loss of laboratory services from restriction of testing but also from impairment of laboratory services in cases of spills or accidents. Significant discrepancies in guidelines from professional and governmental sources exacerbate the difficulty and confusion inherent in dealing with a dynamic, emerging infectious disease crisis. The duty to provide care for laboratory workers is ill-defined. Balancing risks to patients and laboratory workers and benefits to patients presents challenges to laboratory professionals at all levels.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allied Health Personnel
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging*
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola*
  • Humans
  • Laboratories / ethics*
  • Occupational Exposure / ethics
  • Occupational Exposure / prevention & control
  • Risk Assessment