DALLAS — A second health care worker at a Dallas hospital who provided care for the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S. has tested positive for the disease, the Texas Department of State Health Services said Wednesday.
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The department said in a statement that the worker reported a fever Tuesday and was immediately isolated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Health officials said the worker was among those who took care of Thomas Eric Duncan, who was diagnosed with Ebola after coming to the U.S. from Liberia. Duncan died Oct. 8.
In Europe, the WHO said the death rate in the outbreak has risen to 70 percent as it has killed nearly 4,500 people, most of them in West Africa. The previous mortality rate was about 50 percent.
Officials have said they don't know how the first health worker, a nurse, became infected. But the second case pointed to lapses beyond how one individual may have donned and removed personal protective garb.
"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.
"What happened there (in Dallas), regardless of the reason, is not acceptable. It shouldn't have happened," Anthony Fauci, director of the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of NIH, said on MSNBC on Wednesday.
Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the CDC, has acknowledged that the government wasn't aggressive enough in managing Ebola and containing the virus as it spread from an infected patient to a nurse at a Dallas hospital.
"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 said Tuesday.
The stark admission came as the World Health Organization projected the pace of infections accelerating in West Africa to as many as 10,000 new cases a week within two months.
The second case may help health officials determine where the infection control breach is occurring and make practices safer for health workers everywhere. For example, if both health workers were involved in drawing Duncan's blood, placing an intravenous line or suctioning mucus when Duncan was on a breathing machine, that would be recognized as a particularly high-risk activity. It also might reveal which body fluids pose the greatest risk.
The CDC was conducting confirmatory testing of a preliminary Ebola test conducted late Tuesday at a state public health laboratory in Texas, which came back positive.
Emergency responders in hazardous materials suits began decontamination work before dawn Wednesday at the Dallas apartment complex where the second hospital worker lives. Officials said she lives alone with no pets.
Dallas city spokeswoman Sana Syed said a hazardous materials crew has finished cleaning common areas of the complex and that the state was sending a crew to clean the actual apartment.
In a conference call late Tuesday, the nation's largest nurses' union described how the patient, Duncan, was left in an open area of the emergency room for hours. National Nurses United, citing unidentified nurses, said staff treated Duncan for days without the correct protective gear, that hazardous waste was allowed to pile up to the ceiling and safety protocols constantly changed.
A total of 76 people at the hospital might have been exposed to Duncan, and all are being monitored for fever and other symptoms daily, Frieden said. Nurse Nina Pham contracted the virus while caring for Duncan. Health officials are monitoring 48 others who had some contact with Duncan before he was admitted the hospital where he died.
Pham, 26, became the first person to contract the disease on U.S. soil as she cared for Duncan. She released a statement Tuesday through Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital saying she was "doing well," and the hospital listed her in good condition. She has received a plasma transfusion from a doctor who recovered from the virus, and the hospital CEO said medical staff members remain hopeful about her condition.
Pham was in Duncan's room often, from the day he was placed in intensive care until the day before he died.
Among the changes announced Tuesday by Frieden was a plan to limit the number of health care workers who care for Ebola patients so they "can become more familiar and more systematic in how they put on and take off protective equipment, and they can become more comfortable in a healthy way with providing care in the isolation unit."