Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Tom Frieden said Sunday that a breach of care protocol caused a Texas health care worker who treated the first person to die of Ebola in the U.S. to contract the disease.
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The worker, a nurse who has not yet been identified, helped to treat Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas on Duncan’s second visit to the facility. The worker’s positive test results were confirmed Sunday, and the case is the first known person-to-person transmission of Ebola in the U.S.
“We’re deeply concerned,” Freiden said.
National Nurses United Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro released a statement Sunday saying the report only “heightens the concerns for registered nurses and other frontline hospital personnel who would be among the first to respond and interact with other patients about whether their hospital is doing enough to protect health workers as well as patients and the general public.”
“The time to act is long overdue,” DeMoro said.
According to the White House, President Obama received an update from his homeland security assistant, as well as the Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, and is demanding immediate federal action.
Along with an order for federal authorities to take additional steps to “ensure hospitals and health care providers are prepared to follow protocols,” a readout from the White House shows an order for the CDC investigation into the protocol to move as “expeditiously as possible,” and that information out of the investigation be shared “quickly and broadly.”
While treating Duncan, who died on Wednesday, “this individual was following full CDC precautions—gown, glove, mask, and shield,” said Dr. Daniel Varga, chief clinical officer of Texas Health Resources, which operates the hospital.
However, a federal health official said there may have been an “inadvertent breach” of protocol, noting that such breaches can occur in the process of taking off the personal protective gear. “That’s very likely what’s happened—an inadvertent breach,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday morning.
Fauci stressed that isolated cases of Ebola due to breaches of protocol did not mean that an outbreak was imminent. “We won’t have a public outbreak,” he said. Fauci added: “The best way to protect Americans is to completely suppress the epidemic in West Africa.”
Candace White, a spokesperson for Texas Health Resources, said the hospital was “triple-checking” its compliance with the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We are also continuing to monitor all staff who had some relation to Mr. Duncan’s care even if they are not assumed to be at significant risk of infection,” she said in a statement.
The health-care worker had been following the self-monitoring protocols for those who had been in contact with Duncan and came to the hospital last week. Ebola is transmitted through direct, close contact with infected bodily fluids, human remains, or objects like needles or syringes, or infected animals.
“While this is obviously bad news, it is not news that should bring about panic,” Clay Jenkins, Dallas County’s chief executive, said at a Sunday news conference.