WATCH: A dire warning from one of the aid groups on the ground in western Africa: UNICEF has now declared the Ebola epidemic an extreme crisis. And one of the outcomes of this crisis is the thousands of children who are now Ebola orphans. Jackson Proskow reports.
MADRID – In a case underscoring the perils of caring for Ebola patients, a nurse in Spain who cared for an Ebola patient has come down with the disease — the first known transmission outside West Africa during the current epidemic.
Her husband and a second nurse who treated the patient are now in quarantine, Spanish officials said Tuesday.
A man who arrived on a flight from Nigeria has also been quarantined, they said.
Public Health Director Mercedes Vinuesa told Parliament that authorities were making a list of other people who may have had contact with the nurse, who has not been publicly identified. The couple has no children.
The Health Ministry’s chief co-ordinator for health alerts and emergencies, Fernando Simon, told Cadena SER radio that the nurse was in stable condition and her life not in any immediate danger. Health officials said she had no symptoms besides the fever.
News reports said she was 44. Simon said her husband was “OK and relatively calm.”
There was a low risk that some people in contact with the nurse could develop Ebola, Simon said, but he insisted this did not represent a public health threat. He disputed critics who said authorities were slow to react to the case.
The nurse, was hospitalized on Sunday, had helped treat Manuel Garcia Viejo, a Spanish priest returned from Sierra Leone who died Sept. 25 in another Madrid hospital designated for treating Ebola patients. She had changed a diaper for the patient and collected material from his room following his death. She then went on vacation.
Vinuesa said Spain had several therapies available and began applying them Monday, but gave no further details.
She had also assisted treating 75-year-old Spanish priest Miguel Pajares, also flown back to Spain from Liberia. He died after being treated with the experimental Ebola medicine ZMapp.
Garcia Viejo, who was in charge of the San Juan del Dios hospital in Lunsar, Sierra Leone, was not given the treatment because worldwide supplies ran out.
The virus that causes Ebola spreads only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person showing symptoms.
The nurse’s illness illustrates the danger that health care workers face not only in poorly equipped West African clinics, but also in the more sophisticated medical centres of Europe and the United States, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University.
“At greatest risk in all Ebola outbreaks are health care workers,” he said.
The unprecedented Ebola outbreak this year has killed more than 3,400 people in West Africa, the World Health Organization estimates, and it has become an escalating concern to the rest of the world. More than 370 health-care workers in the hardest-hit countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have died.
In the U.S., video journalist Ashoka Mukpo, who became infected while working in Liberia, arrived at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, where another Ebola patient had been treated. It’s not clear how he was infected. It may have happened when he helped clean a vehicle someone died in, said his father, Dr. Mitchell Levy. On Monday, his symptoms of fever and nausea still appeared mild, Levy said.
Mukpo is the fifth American sick with Ebola brought back from West Africa for medical care. The others were aid workers — three have recovered and one remains hospitalized.
There are no approved drugs for Ebola, so doctors have tried experimental treatments in some cases.
The critically ill Liberian man hospitalized in Dallas is also getting an experimental treatment, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital said Monday. Thomas Eric Duncan is the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S.; he was admitted to the hospital Sept. 28.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry urged the U.S. government to begin screening air passengers arriving from Ebola-affected nations, including taking their temperatures.
The hospital said Duncan was receiving an experimental medication called brincidofovir, which was developed to treat other types of viruses. Laboratory tests suggested it may also work against Ebola.
Two other experimental drugs developed specifically for Ebola have been used, though it’s unclear whether they had any effect. The small supply of ZMapp was exhausted after being used on a few patients, though government officials say more should be available in the next two months. A second drug, TKM-Ebola from Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, has been used in at least one patient.
Federal health officials say a travel ban could make the desperate situation worse in those countries, and White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was not currently under consideration.
President Barack Obama said the U.S. will be “working on protocols to do additional passenger screening both at the source and here in the United States.” He did not outline any details or offer a timeline.
Associated Press writers Jorge Sainz in Spain, Josh Funk in Omaha, Nebraska, and Connie Cass, Lauran Neergaard, Matthew Perrone and Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this report.
© 2014 The Canadian Press