Confirmation of a second, unidentified health care worker infected with the Ebola virus in the United States within a two-week span has raised questions about the manner in which public health officials have tackled the disease since it reached the mainland last month.
The nurse, who counted among the nearly 100 medical professionals who cared for Ebola patient zero Thomas Eric Duncan, reported a fever on Tuesday and stayed in an isolation unit at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. The next day, health officials announced the positive test results, which came three days after a nurse who spent hours with Duncan tested positive for Ebola.
While the most recent case has added to the frenzy among Americans fearful of an Ebola outbreak similar to what has unfolded in West Africa, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that the subsequent infections didn’t take them by surprise, especially since nearly 100 doctors, nurses, and assistants treated Duncan for 10 days.
That hasn’t stopped some health care workers, many of whom stood on the front lines in the days since Duncan arrived in the U.S., from questioning and critiquing the steps that health officials have taken to protect them as they treat the Ebola-stricken. During a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Deborah Burger, the president of National Nurses United, recounted instances during which nurses at Presbyterian Hospital treated Duncan for days in an open space in the emergency room under constantly changing protocols and without sufficient protective gear.
“Were the protocols breached? The nurses say there were no protocols,” Burger told reporters, refusing to identify those nurses but maintaining they “were in a position to know” what occurred at the hospital.
Other allegations nurses made, according to Burger, included the contamination of the hospital specimen delivery system with the Ebola patient’s lab samples. Nurses also said that medical professionals didn’t dispose of hazardous waste expediently. The conversation took place hours after CDC director Thomas Frieden acknowledged that the agency should have played more of a direct role in responding to the first Ebola infection.
That’s why federal officials recently unveiled plans to dispatch a newly assembled response team to any hospital in the country that has a confirmed case of Ebola. Some of the world’s leading experts on Ebola have also converged on Dallas, including two nurses from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta who safely cared for Ebola patients and will train hospital staff on infection control and proper use of protective gear.
“I wish we had put a team like this on the ground the day the patient, the first patient, was diagnosed,” Frieden said at a news conference Tuesday. “That might have prevented this infection. But we will do that from today onward with any case, anywhere in the U.S.”
But some think that the CDC should go further to contain the disease which experts say has a 70 percent death rate and could infect more than 10,000 people worldwide before the end of the year. Recommendations include transporting Ebola patients to the four hospitals — each located in Georgia, Maryland, Nebraska, and Montana — with special isolation units, as well as equipping medical professional with more protective suits and hands-on training.
Dallas Morning News reported that health care workers at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas didn’t wear hazmat suits for two days while treating Ebola patient zero Thomas Eric Duncan until tests confirmed that he was infected. Investigators now say that health care workers were exposed to the virus between Sept. 28 – 30, when Duncan first reported symptoms.