A second Dallas health worker who was part of the team treating Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan tested positive for the disease, Texas officials said Wednesday morning, adding that there is a "very real possibility" that more cases could turn up.
The female hospital worker, who has not been identified, presented with a fever Tuesday night and was isolated within 90 minutes of her elevated temperature reading, officials say. Ebola is not contagious before symptoms develop, the Texas Department of Health said in a statement, but it added that it will be monitoring any potential exposures in the community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, meanwhile, will perform a second test to confirm the diagnosis.
"While this is troubling news for the patient, the patient’s family and colleagues and the greater Dallas community," the CDC said in a statement, "the CDC and the Texas Department of State Health Services remain confident that wider spread in the community can be prevented with proper public health measures including ongoing contact tracing, health monitoring among those known to have been in contact with the index patient and immediate isolations if symptoms develop."
Unidentified nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian, where Duncan was treated on September 28, allege that the hospital had an insufficient safety protocol, describing a "confused and chaotic" emergency room where the patient was left out of isolation for hours. The nursing staff, they said, was given flimsy protective gear and was not properly trained to avoid infection. “There was no advanced preparedness on what to do with the patient. There was no protocol. There was no system. The nurses were asked to call the infectious disease department” with questions, the nurses said in a statement released by National Nurses United. “Hospital officials allowed nurses who interacted with Mr. Duncan to then continue normal patient-care duties."
The CDC said that the issue was a matter for the state health department to take up. But Tuesday, Director Thomas Frieden admitted that the agency regretted its initial response to the initial Ebola diagnosis. In the future, he said during a news conference, the CDC will send an "Ebola response team" to any hospital with a confirmed Ebola case. “I wish we had put a team like this on the ground the day the first patient was diagnosed,” he said. “That might have prevented this [second] infection. But we will do that from today onward with any case anywhere in the U.S.”
In West Africa, the epicenter of the epidemic, the death rate for Ebola has risen to 70 percent, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, up from the previous estimate of about 50 percent. In two months' time, it added, the outbreak could escalated to a point where there are up to 10,000 new cases per week. The official death toll, which mostly comes from West Africa, has risen to 4,447. If the world doesn't up its response, WHO assistant director-general Dr. Bruce Aylward warned, "a lot more people will die."