Second Health Worker Tests Positive For Ebola At Dallas Hospital

October 15, 2014

Updated at 11:25 a.m. ET

Officials in Texas say a second health care worker who treated Liberian Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas has preliminarily tested positive for the deadly virus.

The Texas Department of State Health Services says the health care worker, who was among those who cared for Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas after his Ebola diagnosis, “reported a fever Tuesday and was immediately isolated at the hospital.”

“Health officials have interviewed the latest patient to quickly identify any contacts or potential exposures, and those people will be monitored,” the statement read. “The type of monitoring depends on the nature of their interactions and the potential they were exposed to the virus.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta will conduct additional tests to confirm the preliminary result.

At a news conference this morning, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the second health worker, whom he did not identify but referred to as “her,” faced the diagnosis with the same “grit and determination” that critical care nurse Nina Pham, who tested positive for the disease on Sunday, has shown.

He said “we are preparing contingencies for more” Ebola patients, “and that is a very real possibility.”

In a statement later, the CDC said that the newest patient had been on a commercial flight from Cleveland to Dallas the day before reporting symptoms.

“Because of the proximity in time between the evening flight and first report of illness the following morning, CDC is reaching out to passengers who flew on Frontier Airlines flight 1143 Cleveland to Dallas/Fort Worth Oct. 13,” the statement said.

It bears repeating that the virus is not contagious until a person starts showing symptoms.

At Wednesday’s news conference, Judge Jenkins said the 47 original “contact traces” who had contact with Duncan, who died a week ago from the disease, were nearing the end of the Ebola incubation period and were all symptom-free. He said the possibility that any of them would become symptomatic at this point is “extremely remote.”

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said that cleaning at the newest patient’s apartment was “done as soon as possible” and that the patient “lived alone and without pets.”

Rawlings said of the situation in the city: “It’s going to get worse before it gets better. But it will get better.”

Dr. Daniel Varga, the chief medical officer for Texas Health Resources, which runs the hospital, said he saw no systemic problems with the response.

“A lot is being said about what may or may not have been done,” he said. “We may have done some things differently given what we know now.

“No one wants to get this right more than we do,” he said.

The Texas health department said the CDC said in a statement: “An additional health care worker testing positive for Ebola is a serious concern, and the CDC has already taken active steps to minimize the risk to health care workers and the patient.” Another 77 individuals, all but two of them health workers who were exposed to Duncan, are being monitored for Ebola symptoms, said Jenkins, the Dallas County judge.

Pham, 26, is in “good condition,” according to the hospital where she was quickly isolated after reporting a fever.

A day after Pham’s diagnosis, she received a blood transfusion from Ebola survivor Kent Brantley, an aid worker who contracted the disease while working in West Africa.

“I’m doing well and want to thank everyone for their kind wishes and prayers,” Pham said in a written statement released by the hospital. “I am blessed by the support of family and friends and am blessed to be cared for by the best team of doctors and nurses in the world here at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.”

In a news conference on Tuesday, Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC, acknowledged that more could have been done to prevent Pham’s infection.

“We did send some expertise in infection control,” Frieden said. “But I think we could, in retrospect, with 20/20 hindsight, have sent a more robust hospital infection control team and been more hands-on with the hospital from day one about exactly how this should be managed.”

The Associated Press writes: “Officials have said they don’t know how [Pham] became infected. But the second case pointed to lapses beyond how one individual may have donned and removed personal protective garb.”

Meanwhile, nurses at the Texas hospital have described the response to Duncan’s arrival in the emergency room as chaotic, saying he “languished for hours in a room with other patients and that hospital authorities resisted isolating him,” according to The Los Angeles Times.

The newspaper reports: “In addition, they said, the nurses tending him had flimsy protective gear and no proper training from hospital administrators in handling such a patient.”

Member station KERA is following this story in a live blog on its website.

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