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Missteps in U.S. Ebola Protection Plan Continue

Illustration of the Ebola virus
Ebola virus

Let's see: A nurse who cared for a dying Ebola patient is allowed to fly on a commercial flight days later despite having a low-grade fever. Another worker who handled the patient's lab specimens takes a cruise and has to be quarantined aboard the ship. Officials with the hospital where the man died admit nurses were never given Ebola training. Is this how the U.S. thinks it will protect citizens against this disease?

The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told a Congressional panel this week that he remains "confident that Ebola is not a significant public health threat to the United States," but he did admit the agency should have responded quicker to the Dallas case.

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“We could have sent a more robust hospital infection-control team and been more hands-on with the hospital from day one," said Thomas Frieden, M.D., at a  press conference, the New York Times reported.

The agency also should have followed its own protocols. The second Dallas health care worker was given permission by a CDC official to fly on a commercial flight despite running a temperature, the Washington Post reported. After she returned, she tested positive for Ebola, and the airlines and officials scrambled to find all passengers on her flight back to Texas.

A hospital lab worker who may have handled the Ebola patient's fluid samples had to be quarantined on board a cruise ship until the worker could be safely removed. The worker took the cruise before the CDC stepped up its monitoring of those who may have come into contact with the patient who died.

And a nurses' union lambasted the Dallas hospital for putting nurses' health and safety on the frontline without having Ebola protocols in place to protect them. A top hospital official confirmed in the Congressional hearing that nurses were never given Ebola training; he also apologized for "mistakes" made in the man's original diagnosis and for providing inaccurate information about the hospital's response.

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The events are the latest in a series of missteps among health authorities in handling the spread of the disease to the U.S.

Other problems in preventing the spread of the disease here continue.

  •  A stunning 85 percent of nurses say their hospital hasn’t provided educational training sessions on Ebola in which nurses could interact and ask questions, according to a survey by National Nurses United, the country’s largest professional association of registered nurses, NBC News reported. Some 37 percent of nurses felt their hospitals had insufficient protective supplies, including face shields and goggles or fluid-resistant gowns.
  • Two hospital workers who cared for an Ebola patient in Dallas have tested positive for the disease, despite their having worn protective gear, and health officials still are unsure exactly how they were exposed to the virus.  Nina Pham, 26, was one of those who took care of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died from Ebola at Texas Presbyterian Hospital. CDC officials said that a “breach in protocol” — perhaps in how she removed her gear after contact with Duncan — may be to blame. Even the smallest slip in removing contaminated garments that came in contact with a patient’s bodily fluids can put a person at risk of infection.
  • Hospital records reveal that Duncan came to the ER with all the classic signs of the dangerous disease, despite the Dallas hospital’s initial statements that he was sent home because his symptoms were mild and flu-like.  He had a 103-degree fever, bad headache and severe abdominal pain, making him highly contagious when he was mistakenly discharged. He also told the hospital he was from Liberia, where the epidemic is raging, yet he wasn’t placed in isolation.
  • The health care system apparently hasn’t been focused on the threat of Ebola spreading here. Frieden said the CDC is now “doubling down” on Ebola training and support for hospitals and health care workers, and making sure U.S. hospitals “think Ebola,” including isolating those who have been to Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea.



Photo: glOck/iStock

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