Washington (AFP) — The United States must rethink its approach to controlling the Ebola virus after a Texas health care worker was infected with the often deadly virus, health authorities said Monday.
“We have to rethink the way we approach Ebola infection control, because even a single infection is unacceptable,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden.
Frieden spoke to reporters a day after Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas announced one of its staff members had contracted Ebola — marking the first case of infection inside the United States.
However, he gave few specifics about what precisely was going to change.
“What we will be doing in the coming days and weeks is doubling down on the amount of education, training, outreach, and support we provide,” Frieden said.
He also said experts still don’t know exactly how the woman was infected while caring for Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, who died of Ebola on Wednesday and was the first person diagnosed with Ebola outside Africa.
Local media WFAA identified the woman as Nina Pham, a 26-year-old who had recently completed the nursing program at Texas Christian University.
She treated Duncan multiple times during his hospital stay and had extensive contact with him, but had worn extra safety gear including a mask, face shield, gown and gloves according to CDC guidelines, officials have said.
Duncan was hospitalized September 28 and died of Ebola on Wednesday.
– More cases possible –
Frieden said CDC workers are still interviewing other health workers at the hospital to see if anyone else is experiencing Ebola symptoms or is at risk of infection.
“We have to consider the possibility that there could be additional cases particularly among health care workers,” said Frieden, adding that he would “unfortunately not be surprised” to see more such cases.
A prominent nursing group, National Nurses United, lashed back at the CDC on Sunday, saying that hospitals needed to provide better protection to health care workers.
Holding signs that said “Stop Blaming Nurses” at a press conference, members called for proper training against Ebola and hazardous materials suits to guard against the virus.
A spokesman for the group told AFP that nurses want access to hazmat suits, and said three quarters of nurses polled said they had not been briefed by their hospitals on how to handle an Ebola case.
Frieden said Sunday that a “breach of protocol” was the reason for the infection of the woman who helped care for Duncan.
On Monday, he apologized for appearing to place the blame on her when he cited a lapse of safety procedures.
“Some interpreted that as finding fault with the hospital or the healthcare workers, and I am sorry if that was the impression given. It was certainly not my intention,” said Frieden, telling reporters he felt “awful” upon learning of the case.
“All of us have to work together to do whatever is possible to reduce the risk that any other healthcare worker becomes infected.”
– White House meeting –
President Barack Obama met Monday with members of his public health and national security team to receive an update on the response to the diagnosis of the second Ebola case in Dallas, Texas.
Ebola has killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa since the start of the year, and is spread through close contact with bodily fluids.
Frieden said the latest Texas case “doesn’t change the fact that we know how Ebola spreads. It doesn’t change the fact that we know how to take care of Ebola safely.
“But it does change substantially how we approach it.”
Photo via Louis DeLuca via Dallas Morning News/MCT
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