WATCH ABOVE: A new case of Ebola has been diagnosed in Texas. The CDC had previously warned that more healthcare workers could come down with the disease. Adriana Diaz reports.
TORONTO – They wore protective gear: gowns, gloves, masks and face shields, and sometimes even full body suits while looking after their dying Ebola patient. So how did two Texas health care workers contract the deadly disease?
Earlier this week, a nurse who looked after Liberian patient Thomas Eric Duncan became the first person diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil. Now that a second health care worker case has surfaced, officials are conceding of a “serious concern,” and missteps that might have happened along the way.
“An additional health care worker testing positive for Ebola is a serious concern and the CDC has already taken active steps to minimize the risk to health care workers and the patient,” the CDC said in a statement shortly after the second case was reported.
About the two patients, their link to Eric Thomas Duncan
While the agency hasn’t identified the second health care worker, the first has been identified by her family as Nina Pham, a 26-year-old nurse who turned up in hospital on the weekend with a fever. It’s still unclear how the transmission occurred.
By Tuesday, the second worker reported a fever and was immediately isolated. That night, preliminiary tests confirmed the patient contracted the disease. In both cases, the frontline health care workers looked after Duncan who was diagnosed with Ebola on Sept. 23. He died on Oct. 8.
About 76 people at the hospital are now being monitored daily for symptoms, and another 48 people who came into contact with Duncan are also being watched.
Another nurse assistant in Madrid also got Ebola while looking after a missionary priest who died.
What went wrong and how health officials are retracing their steps
Right now, the CDC is retracing its steps and interviewing the infected workers to identify what might have happened. So far, it’s calling the cases a “breach in protocol.”
When Duncan was first admitted to Texas Presbyterian Hospital, health officials decided against transferring him to a special isolation unit that was used in other high-profile cases of missionary workers returning to the U.S.
The Dallas hospital was “well prepared” to look after its single case of Ebola, the CDC said.
Now, Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the CDC is suggesting that officials should have been more aggressive in containing the virus.
“We could’ve sent a more robust hospital infection control team and been more hands-on with the hospital from day one about exactly how this should be managed,” he told the Associated Press Tuesday.
The CDC is creating an Ebola response team, increasing training for health care workers nation wide and making changes at the Texas hospital to stifle spread.
“I wish we had put a team like this on the ground the day the patient – the first patient – was diagnosed. That might have prevented this infection,” Frieden said.
Pham was in Duncan’s room often, but she wore protective gear when looking after her patient. Officials are now zeroing in on two potential ways transmission occurred: how the garb was removed and what happened while Duncan received intensive medical procedures.
Removing contaminated gear is a time-consuming, difficult task because it involves disinfecting along every step. Some of the garb health workers take off might brush against a surface and contaminate it.
With breathing machines or kidney dialysis – Duncan relied on both – health care workers have to insert and remove tubes, which raises the risk of coming into contact with the patient’s bodily fluids.
But the officials are in no way placing blame on the health care workers who are now patients.
“This is a very brave person who put herself at risk to do something good for society, and is now ill,” Frieden said of the first case.
For now, the CDC is going to limit the number of health care workers who care for Ebola patients. That way, they’ll “become more familiar” with the protocol involved with looking after patients in isolation.
Could this happen in Canada?
Canada has had a string of Ebola false alarms over the past few months, including two cases that turned up negative this week.
Canadian infectious disease experts say that they’re ready and bracing for a potential case to land on our soil.
Based on how the country’s already handled its suspected cases, Canada’s health care system is taking the threat of a potential case seriously.
“There’s absolutely no reason to worry or to panic,” Canadian microbiologist Jason Tetro told Global News.
“The fear we’re going to be submerged in a worldwide Ebola outbreak is an unbased fear that’s unlikely. There isn’t evidence this is spreading beyond in a way that should worry people living thousands of miles away,” Dr. Joel Kettner, of Winnipeg’s International Centre for Infectious Diseases, said.
During an outbreak such as this one, there are special communications to and heightened awareness among health care providers.
Patients are now screened for a fever, cough or trouble breathing. They’re asked a critical, telling question: have they recently returned from another country?
Hospitals have better ventilation, single rooms, and plexiglass walls act as a barrier between emergency room front desks and sick patients.
The communication lines — between hospitals to provincial ministries, between provinces and Ottawa, and between agencies and the media to the public — are opened.
Quarantine officers are at all of Canada’s international airports — Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, for example — and they work around the clock, seven days a week, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
And then there’s the Quarantine Act, which would help in detection and management of sick travellers. It requires travellers to report to CBSA agents if they’re ill upon arrival. Airlines and flight attendants are also required to report sick passengers coming off of international flights.
– With files from the Associated Press