DALLAS (AP) — A Texas health care worker who was in full protective gear when they provided hospital care for an Ebola patient who later died has tested positive for the virus and is in stable condition, health officials said Sunday. If the preliminary diagnosis is confirmed, it would be the first known case of the disease being contracted or transmitted in the U.S.
Dr. Daniel Varga, of the Texas Health Resources, said during a news conference Sunday that the worker wore a gown, gloves, mask and shield when they provided care to Thomas Eric Duncan during his second visit to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. Varga did not identify the worker and says the family of the worker has "requested total privacy."
Varga says the health care worker reported a fever Friday night as part of a self-monitoring regimen required by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said another person also remains in isolation, and the hospital has stopped accepting new emergency room patients.
Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., died Wednesday in Dallas.
"We knew a second case could be a reality, and we've been preparing for this possibility," Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said in a statement Sunday. "We are broadening our team in Dallas and working with extreme diligence to prevent further spread."
Health officials have interviewed the patient and are identifying any contacts or potential exposures. They said people who had contact with the health care worker after symptoms emerged will be monitored based on the nature of their interactions and the potential they were exposed to the virus.
Officials said they also received information that there may be a pet in the health care worker's apartment, and they have a plan in place to care for the animal. They do not believe the pet has signs of having contracted Ebola.
Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the health care worker's Ebola diagnosis shows there was a clear breach of safety protocol. Frieden on Sunday told CBS' "Face the Nation" that all those who treated Duncan are now considered to be potentially exposed, though couldn't give an exact number. Health care workers treating Duncan were directed to follow CDC protocol that included wearing protective gear. Among the things CDC will investigate is how the workers took off that gear — because removing it incorrectly can lead to a contamination.
Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas County's top administrative official, said the unidentified health care worker is a "heroic" person who "was proud to provide care to Mr. Duncan." He said the health care worker's family has requested privacy because they are "going through a great ordeal."
More than 4,000 people have died in the ongoing Ebola epidemic centered in West Africa, according to World Health Organization figures published Friday. Almost all of those deaths have been in the three worst-affected countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Ebola spreads through close contact with a symptomatic person's bodily fluids, such as blood, sweat, vomit, feces, urine, saliva or semen. Those fluids must have an entry point, like a cut or scrape or someone touching the nose, mouth or eyes with contaminated hands, or being splashed. The World Health Organization says blood, feces and vomit are the most infectious fluids, while the virus is found in saliva mostly once patients are severely ill and the whole live virus has never been culled from sweat.
Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., died Wednesday in Dallas. Duncan grew up next to a leper colony in Liberia and fled years of war before later returning to his country to find it ravaged by the disease that ultimately took his life.
Duncan arrived in Dallas in late September, realizing a long-held ambition to join relatives. He came to attend the high-school graduation of his son, who was born in a refugee camp in Ivory Coast and was brought to the U.S. as a toddler when the boy's mother successfully applied for resettlement.
The trip was the culmination of decades of effort, friends and family members said. But when Duncan arrived in Dallas, though he showed no symptoms, he had already been exposed to Ebola. His neighbors in Liberia believe Duncan become infected when he helped a pregnant neighbor who later died from it. It was unclear if he knew about her diagnosis before traveling.
Duncan had arrived at a friend's Dallas apartment on Sept. 20 — less than a week after helping his sick neighbor. For the nine days before he was taken to a hospital in an ambulance, Duncan shared the apartment with several people.