Safety protocols for Ebola treatment are not fool-proof

A hospital worker in Texas who helped treat Thomas Duncan, the Liberian Ebola patient who died last Wednesday, has now tested positive (to be confirmed) for the disease. He had used a full protective suit and all the safety protocols of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were apparently followed. If confirmed, it would be the first known case of the disease being contracted or transmitted in the U.S. The infected health worker apparently has a pet which is now being tested. A Spanish nurse in Madrid who treated a priest who had contracted Ebola was the first person infected outside West Africa. Her dog Excalibur was put down as a precaution.

One other person is in isolation at the hospital,  the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, which is no longer accepting emergency patients.

There is some serious speculation that the Ebola virus could become air-borne and the disease would not only be subject to transmission by contact with body fluids. Even if the case in Texas was due to some breach of safety protocols, these procedures are clearly not fool-proof. And they would be obsolete and quite ineffective if the virus is already mutating on its way to going air-borne.

It also brings into sharp focus the risks being run by health workers treating Ebola patients in West Africa.

Washington Post:

…. The worker is in isolation and in stable condition, the hospital system said.

Daniel Varga, chief clinical officer for Texas Health Resources, which operates Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, said the worker had been under self-monitoring in recent days, which includes taking a temperature twice daily. When the health worker showed signs of a fever, the person notified the hospital, went directly there and immediately was admitted to an isolation room. Varga said the entire sequence of events took less than 90 minutes. 

The CDC did not consider person to be “high risk,” Varga said. The person treated Duncan, the Ebola patient, after his second visit to the ER, on Sept. 28. The health worker was “following full CDC precautions,” including wearing a gown, gloves, a mask and a protective face shield.

“We’re very concerned,” Varga said, though he added that the hospital is “confident that the precautions that we have in place are protecting our health-care workers.”

The hospital has put its emergency room on “diversion,” which means that ambulances are not currently bringing patients to the ER, though patients already in the hospital are still being cared for.

“The system of monitoring, quarantine and isolation was established to protect those who cared for Mr. Duncan as well as the community at large by identifying any potential Ebola cases as early as possible and getting those individuals into treatment immediately,” Varga said.

Dallas officials deployed hazmat teams to decontaminate the entrance and common areas of an apartment complex in the 3700 block of Marquita Avenue where the health worker presumptively lives and the vehicle that the person used to travel to the hospital.

This Ebola epidemic has now claimed over 4,000 lives in West Africa predominantly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. If the disease does become air-borne it would probably happen first where the virus is present in abundance and that would probably be in West Africa.

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