Second hospital caregiver tests positive for Ebola in Dallas

Holly Waller, LRN, removes protective gear Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, at Lenoir Memorial Hospital in Kinston, N.C. All hospital staff take protective measures to keep staff and patients safe, as more attention is focused on diseases like Ebola.
Holly Waller, LRN, removes protective gear Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, at Lenoir Memorial Hospital in Kinston, N.C. All hospital staff take protective measures to keep staff and patients safe, as more attention is focused on diseases like Ebola. AP

A second health care worker at Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas has tested positive for Ebola after providing care for Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, and local nurses said few precautions were taken initially upon Duncan’s arrival at the hospital.

The preliminary tests performed overnight by the Texas Department of State Health Services will be confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The unidentified worker was placed in isolation at the hospital after reporting a high fever.

The CDC has interviewed the patient and is working to identify any potential contacts the patient may have had after symptoms were developed.

The latest infection makes good on CDC Director Tom Frieden’s warning that more of the 76 hospital staffers who treated Duncan might themselves become infected.

The new Ebola patient joins 26-year-old nurse Nina Pham as the second worker to become infected in an apparent breach of safety protocol while caring for Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S.

Both incidents have called into question the Ebola patient care training provided to hospital staff by the CDC.

On Tuesday, Frieden said Pham’s infection might have been prevented if his agency had been more “hands on” in instructing hospital staff about the proper way to don and remove personal protective equipment designed to guard against Ebola infection.

The CDC suspects that Pham may have been infected by inadvertently touching a part of her protective equipment that was tainted with infected bodily fluid as she removed it.

Announcement of the new infection came only hours after several hospital nurses who treated Duncan told reporters that, upon arriving at the hospital, he sat for several hours with other patients before he was put in isolation.

The same nurses also said they wore little protective equipment to guard against infection while treating Duncan.

The allegations were made in a telephone press briefing on Tuesday evening held by National Nurses United, a nationwide union of registered nurses.

During the call, several unidentified nurses who say they treated Duncan fielded questions from reporters through a Nurses United representative. The nurses did not answer questions directly in order to protect their identity, fearing reprisal from hospital officials.

The nurses instead provided written answers to a union representative, who read the statements to reporters.

The nurses said hospital officials initially resisted their requests to place Duncan in isolation.

The nurses say they wore gloves with no tape to protect their exposed wrists and gowns that left their necks uncovered as they tried to manage Duncan, who was emitting large amounts of body fluids _ the main conduits for transmitting the deadly virus.

The nurses claimed the proper protective equipment arrived days after Duncan had been placed in isolation at the hospital. The nurses made their claims public to push back against perceived criticism that their own safety lapses had led to Pham’s infection.

In a statement, hospital spokesman Wendell Watson did not directly address the nurses’ accusations.

“We take compliance very seriously,” he said. “We have numerous measures in place to provide a safe working environment, including mandatory annual training and a 24-7 hotline and other mechanisms that allow for anonymous reporting.”

Nurses United will hold another press briefing on Thursday to further address the nurses’ claims and push for better training and equipment for nurses across the country who may have to treat possible Ebola patients.

In the wake of Pham’s infection, Frieden announced Tuesday that the CDC will send Ebola response teams to any hospital that admits an Ebola patient to ensure that no other health care workers become infected.

Sensing rising unrest among the nation’s caregivers, the CDC has stepped up efforts to provide training, education and outreach about Ebola to health care workers nationwide.

The 76 hospital staff who either handled Duncan’s blood specimens or treated him while he was in isolation are all being monitored for symptoms of Ebola by health officials.

Forty-Eight other people being monitored for Ebola after having possible contact with Duncan before he was hospitalized are now considered unlikely to develop the virus after surpassing the two-week point of their three-week incubation period with no symptoms or fever.