Officials ‘very concerned’ that Dallas hospital worker who contracted the disease while treating the America’s first Ebola casualty was following guidelines for staying safe
A Dallas health worker who looked after the first Ebola victim to die in the United States contracted the disease despite wearing a full protective gown, gloves and face shield as she cared for him.
Officials in Texas said they were “very concerned” that the first transmission of the virus on US soil occurred despite following health and safety guidelines.
The female nurse, who has asked not to be named, had been classified as having a “low risk” of carrying the disease before testing positive for Ebola on Saturday night.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins described her as a “heroic person who provided care to Mr Duncan.”
He went on: “This is a person who is going through a great ordeal and so is the family.”
The nurse had cared for Thomas Eric Duncan on the second occasion he attempted to get treatment in the emergency room of the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.
Thomas Eric Duncan
Duncan, 42, died on Wednesday, two weeks after travelling to the US from Liberia, the west African country at the centre of the outbreak, where he was thought to have contracted the disease while accompanying a dying pregnant woman in a taxi to hospital.
Those caring for him were said by hospital officials to have abided by Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines which stipulate that full protective suits should be worn while treating Ebola victims.
The latest victim was in a group of 48 health care workers who were being monitored but were considered at low risk of developing the disease when she began to run a low-grade fever on Friday.
A preliminary test was positive for Ebola on Saturday evening, and although this has yet to be confirmed by a second test, officials said they were “confident” it would be.
Duncan was sent home from hospital on the first occasion that he sought help, and was finally admitted four days later, by which time he was likely to have been highly contagious.
It was on this second visit to the hospital that the nurse came into contact with him.
Dr David Varga, the Chief Clinical Officer, said: “This individual was following full CDC guidelines. We’re very concerned.”
A nurse in Spain who treated a dying priest and went on to develop Ebola has admitted that she may have touched her face while removing her protective suit. The latest victim will now be interviewed to see if she made a similar slip.
Dr Tom Freiden, head of the CDC, said the fact that the Dallas nurse had become infected suggested that the safety procedures had been breached.
An investigation to be launched by the agency will examine whether staff were removing their protective clothing in the correct manner.
Dr Freiden told CBS that the infected worker had been in contact with Duncan on a number of occasions, and that all those who treated the Liberian were now considered to be potentially exposed.
Dallas officials said they were confident that infection could be contained. The latest victim was taken into isolation within 90 minutes of arriving in hospital. She was said to be in a stable condition and had requested “total privacy”.
To begin with, officials said only that an unnamed health worker had contracted the disease, but CNN later confirmed that it was a female nurse who had become infected.
The fact that the Dallas nurse caught Ebola despite taking apparently stringent precautions has alarmed the authorities, and is likely to create panic across America.
Judge Jenkins, who is in charge of the civilian response to the outbreak, had already been shunned by his neighbours, with parents pulling their children out of his daughters’ school, after spending time with the Duncan family.
Dr Kent Brantly at work in Monrovia (Reuters)
In August, when the first American Ebola victim, missionary Dr Kent Brantly, was flown back from Liberia for treatment in the US, Donald Trump, the billionaire property mogul, said he should have been forced to remain in Africa.
Officials said that the latest victim’s apartment was being cleaned and her car had already been isolated and decontaminated.
A close relative had been put into quarantine, and their pet was being monitored.
Spanish authorities who euthanised a dog belonging to the nurse had faced protests.
The emergency room at Texas Presbyterian has been closed to admissions and a team of experts has gone to the nurse’s neighbourhood to discuss the case with residents.
The White House issued a statement saying that President Obama had been briefed on the latest victim’s condition and had ordered the CDC to ensure that: “Federal authorities take immediate additional steps to ensure hospitals and healthcare providers nationwide are prepared to follow protocols should they encounter an Ebola patient.”