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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A second health care worker at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas has tested positive for the Ebola virus. The diagnosis was announced by the Texas Department of State Health Services early Wednesday morning.
Just as with nurse Nina Pham, who was diagnosed with the virus over the weekend, the latest patient had provided health care to Thomas Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. Duncan died last week. Pham remains isolated, but in good condition.
The latest patient reported a fever on Tuesday and was then also isolated at the hospital within 90 minutes. Preliminary testing was performed late Tuesday night in Austin and the positive result was received at around midnight, state health officials said in a media release. Confirmatory testing is being conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
“Like Nina Pham, this is a heroic person,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, “a person who has dedicated their life to helping others.”
Health officials have already interviewed the patient and identified other potential exposures. Those individuals are being monitored based on the type of interaction they had with the health care worker, and the potential that they could have been exposed to the Ebola virus. Officials have not said how many additional people this includes.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said that the female patient lives alone and has no pets.
Crews were also at the health care worker’s apartment early Wednesday morning, located near the intersection of Skillman Street and Village Bend Drive in north Dallas. They began decontaminating the complex’s common areas and the space outside of the patient’s home. The patient’s vehicle, which is believed to be at the hospital, and apartment unit will be decontaminated by contractors starting early Wednesday afternoon.
“It started in west Africa, then there’s one case, now it’s right down the street from where I live,” said neighbor Sam Rountree. “It’s pretty crazy.”
“We want to remind Dallas County residents not to panic and overreact,” said county health director Zach Thompson. “We just want Dallas County residents to stay calm.”
“We want to deal with facts,” Rawlings said, “not fear.”
Ebola is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of a sick individual, or exposure to contaminated objects. The virus is only contagious when the sick individual is showing symptoms, such as a fever. The virus has an average incubation period of eight to 10 days, however, it could be as much as 21 days.
“We don’t know if there’ll be additional cases,” Thompson added, “but let’s not be surprised.”
“You got to be okay with it,” said resident James Coltharp. “You can’t feed into the hysterical. You can’t close all the doors, lock all the windows or go out. As long as we’re being told the truth, then I’m okay with it.”
Dallas hospital workers who cared for Duncan were originally thought to be at low risk for contracting the virus. But, after the diagnosis of Pham, the CDC has been monitoring these Dallas health care workers more closely for any possible Ebola symptoms. This includes 77 hospital employees. The CDC has cited an unknown “breach in protocol” for putting the health care workers at risk.
Jenkins noted on Wednesday morning that more Ebola cases among hospital workers is “a very real possibility.”
Dallas County officials previously identified 48 individuals who were in direct contact with Duncan. This did not include health care workers. But, Jenkins said, none of those 48 people have shown any symptoms as they near the end of their monitoring period. They are now considered to be at a low risk for Ebola.
Meanwhile, nurses across the state are coming forward with serious allegations about what they believe went wrong. The state’s nurses union said that protocols could not have been breached, because there were no protocols in place. According to National Nurses United, the initial patient was not isolated immediately. They claim that Duncan was left in a room with other patients for hours before being quarantined.
The union also said that no nurses received hands-on training for the protective gear, and that the equipment was insufficient — leaving the necks of hospital workers exposed. When workers expressed concerns about this, the union stated, they were told to wrap themselves in medical tape.
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital released a statement about the allegations which read, “We have numerous measures in place to provide a safe working environment, including mandatory annual training. We will continue to review and respond to any concerns raised by our nurses and all employees.”
Dr. David Varga, executive vice president of the hospital, acknowledged that there were clearly mistakes in his facility’s process, but stated that the the two diagnosed health care workers present “continued evidence that our monitoring program is working.” Dallas County has set up an optional place for health care workers who treated Duncan and now wish to stay away from their families during the monitoring period.
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital has three isolation rooms. The facility is working to create more in case there is a need.
In a statement released early Wednesday morning, the CDC said that a team of experts who have controlled Ebola outbreaks in Africa are heading to Dallas to help train health officials on ways to prevent any more spreading of the virus. “While this is troubling news for the patient, the patient’s family and colleagues and the greater Dallas community, the CDC and the Texas Department of State Health Services remain confident that wider spread in the community can be prevented with proper public health measures,” the statement read.
“It may get worse before it gets better,” Rawlings said, “but it will get better.”
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