The Obama administration has begun to acknowledge that it was unprepared for the potential emergence of Ebola in the US after a Texas nurse contracted the disease. After weeks of issuing statements that they would have no problem in containing any cases that might emerge, the CDC said that it would “rethink” its approach after the first case resulted in failure. They also acknowledged the very real possibility that others have already been infected in Texas:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday said it is starting to “rethink” its Ebola strategy after the first-ever US transmission of the virus put a “relatively large” number of healthcare workers at risk.
“We’re concerned, and unfortunately would not be surprised if we did see additional [Ebola] cases in healthcare workers who also provided care to the index patient,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said.
A nurse at Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas was diagnosed with Ebola over the weekend, raising questions about the procedures that were followed when treating Thomas Eric Duncan.
The nurse’s infection “doesn’t change the fact that its possible to take care of Ebola safely, but it does change, substantially, how we approach it,” Frieden said.
This won’t surprise many health care professionals. ABC News’ medical correspondent offered a skeptical take on the CDC’s earlier claim that regular containment protocols would suffice, and says the infection of a health-care worker raises serious questions about the agency’s ability to deal with the situation now that it has become a reality:
The protocol breach at a Texas hospital being blamed for a health care worker being infected with Ebola, the first person to contract the disease in the United States, raised concerns about whether hospitals are prepared to treat the virus.
The health care worker was among the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital staff who treated Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person disagnosed with Ebola in the United States. The hospital is not one of the four in the U.S. with units specialized to handle diseases like Ebola.
“The comments from CDC [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] early on that this could be done in any hospital that is used to doing isolation just doesn’t ring true to me,” ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser said.
“Groups like Doctors Without Borders, they have incredible training in this, and they practice it, and it’s the practicing that ensures that you don’t have a slip-up,” he said. “For our first patient in America to lead already to a health care worker getting sick really raises a concern to me.”
The nurse, identified as Nina Pham, has received a blood transfusion from one of the first American survivors of the disease, Dr. Kent Brantley. The hope is that the antibodies in Brantley’s blood will trigger an immune response in Pham that will allow her to fight off the virus, along with the other interventions taking place. The failure in Dallas has the CDC considering whether these cases should be handled by local hospitals at all:
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases was asked on ABC’s “Good Morning America” if federal health authorities should consider requiring that Ebola patients be sent only to highly specialized “containment” hospitals.
“That is something that should be seriously considered,” Fauci said.
If even a single infection is unacceptable, as the CDC’s director stated yesterday, shouldn’t we stop the potential for infection by suspending travel between the US and Ebola-impacted nations until our screening and care protocols improve?