A second health worker who helped to treat Thomas Eric Duncan, the man who died of Ebola in Texas last week, has now been diagnosed with the virus herself. The as yet unidentified woman developed a fever on Tuesday, and was in isolation at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital within 90 minutes, according to authorities. The current incident is the second case of Ebola being transmitted within the U.S., after nurse Nina Pham, who also cared for Duncan, was diagnosed with the virus late last week.
A local official stated this morning that additional cases of the disease in more of the hospital’s workers is a “very real possibility.” More than 75 health care workers who were potentially exposed to Duncan in the hospital are now being monitored for signs of Ebola.
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital is falling under criticism from staff, as well as an outside nurses’ union, who say the hospital is not doing enough to protect its workers from contagious diseases. Nurses at the hospital speaking anonymously through National Nurses United have said that infection control protocols were changing constantly and training was minimal. They said that in the early hours of caring for Duncan in the isolation unit they wore non-impermeable gowns and had no protection for their necks.
The nurses also accuse the hospital of sending Duncan’s lab specimens through the same hospital tube system used for all patients, with the result that the entire lab tube system may also be contaminated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has sent a team to the hospital to help train staff and improve the facility’s infection control measures. CDC Director Thomas Frieden said that in addition to increasing infection control procedures at the hospital, they are adding a 24-hour site manager to monitor putting on and removing personal protective equipment.
Frieden said that the CDC regrets its initial response to the news of Duncan’s diagnosis, saying that more could have been done to help the hospital combat infection. Authorities still have not determined how Pham or the second Texas health care worker were infected with Ebola. It may have been the way safety gear was used, or a flaw in the equipment itself.
According to health experts, as Ebola patients get sicker they become more contagious, and they are not infectious before symptoms appear. The virus spreads quickly in diarrhea, vomit and other bodily fluids. Quickly isolating a patient before these symptoms appear can help prevent transmission of the disease.
One official who is reported to be “close to the situation” says that once Duncan was diagnosed he should have been immediately transferred to either Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, or Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. These two facilities are among only four hospitals in the U.S. that have bio-containment units and have been preparing for treating an infectious disease such as Ebola for years.
The health care worker diagnosed with Ebola yesterday is being extensively interviewed regarding people she may have been in contact with, so that they may also be monitored. Her apartment and car are being decontaminated and information fliers are being distributed throughout the neighborhood. The woman reportedly lives alone and has no pets.
By Beth A. Balen