Second health care worker tests positive for Ebola at Dallas hospital

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(CNN) — A second health care worker at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital who cared for Thomas Eric Duncan has tested positive for Ebola, health officials said Wednesday, casting further doubt on the hospital’s ability to handle Ebola and protect employees.

The worker reported a fever Tuesday and was immediately isolated, health department spokeswoman Carrie Williams said.

A preliminary Ebola test was done late Tuesday at the state public health laboratory in Austin, and the results came back around midnight. A second test will be conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

“Health officials have interviewed the latest patient to quickly identify any contacts or potential exposures, and those people will be monitored,” the health department said.

But the pool of contacts could be small, since Ebola can be transmitted only when an infected person shows symptoms. Less than a day passed between the onset of the worker’s symptoms and isolation at the hospital.

Official: Duncan should have been moved

An official close to the situation says that in hindsight, Duncan should have been transferred immediately to either Emory University Hospital in Atlanta or Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Those hospitals are among only four in the country that have biocontainment units and have been preparing for years to treat a highly infectious disease like Ebola.

“If we knew then what we know now about this hospital’s ability to safely care for these patients, then we would have transferred him to Emory or Nebraska,” the official told CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

“I think there are hospitals that are more than ready, but I think there are some that are not.”

Growing concerns about the spread of Ebola

The second time

The latest infection marks the second-ever transmission of Ebola in the United States. Both stemmed from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

Late last week, nurse Nina Pham tested positive for Ebola. She also took care of Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. Duncan died last week.

On Tuesday, Pham said she was doing well.

“I am blessed by the support of family and friends, and am blessed to be cared for by the best team of doctors and nurses in the world,” she said.

Troubling allegations

Also Tuesday, National Nurses United made troubling allegations about the hospital, claiming “guidelines were constantly changing” and “there were no protocols” about how to deal with the deadly virus.”

“The protocols that should have been in place in Dallas were not in place, and that those protocols are not in place anywhere in the United States as far as we can tell,” NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro said. “We’re deeply alarmed.”
Nurses were told to wrap their necks with medical tape when equipment left their necks exposed; they felt unsupported and unprepared, and they received no hands-on training, union co-president Deborah Burger said.

A Texas Health Presbyterian spokesman did not respond to the specific allegations but said patient and employee safety is the hospital’s top priority.

Changing the protocol

The CDC is establishing an Ebola response team so that whenever there’s a confirmed case anywhere in the country, “we will put a team on the ground within hours,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the centers.

Such a team, Frieden said, might have prevented Pham from contracting the disease.

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Global epidemic

While the Texas hospital deals with its third Ebola patient, the situation in West Africa is getting increasingly dire.

More than 4,000 people have died from Ebola this year in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

And there could be 10,000 new Ebola cases per week in the three countries by the end of this year as the outbreak spreads, the World Health Organization warned Tuesday.

U.S. President Barack Obama says he’ll reach out directly to heads of state to encourage other countries to do more to fight back.

“There are a number of countries that have capacity that have not yet stepped up,” he said. “Those that have stepped up, all of us, are going to have to do more.”