CDC Chief Says U.S. Must 'Rethink' How It Handles Ebola

Monday, October 13th 2014, 4:40 pm
By: News 9

In the wake of the first-ever transmission of the Ebola virus on U.S. soil, America must "rethink" the way it addresses the disease, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday. The fact that a well-protected health care worker was able to contract the disease has raised concerns about the way it is being handled here.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said Monday at a press conference he is urging hospitals to watch for patients with fever or symptoms of Ebola who have traveled from the three Ebola-stricken African nations in the past 21 days. He spoke Monday after a nurse in Dallas became the first person to catch the disease within the United States. She had treated a Liberian man who died at the hospital after bringing the disease from Liberia.

Frieden said the nurse was "clinically stable" and in isolation as of Monday morning. On Monday, the nurse was identified as 26-year-old Nina Pham, reports CBS Dallas.

The CDC is now monitoring all hospital workers who treated the Liberian man. Frieden said he wouldn't be surprised if another hospital worker who cared for that patient when he was very sick becomes ill. Ebola patients become more contagious as the disease progresses.

When asked how many health care workers are being checked, Frieden said officials "don't have a number."

Officials are already monitoring all personal contacts the now-deceased Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan had before he was place in isolation.

Frieden said he is urging all hospitals to "think Ebola" in patients with symptoms and Africa travel. He also promised the CDC would "double down" on training and assistance throughout the country's health care system.

Yesterday, Frieden said in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation" that "clearly there was a breach in protocol" that led to the nurse in Dallas becoming infected.

At Monday's press conference, Frieden clarified the remark, saying it was not an indictment of the hospital where the nurse worked, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, but rather of the overall way the disease is being handled.

While the investigation into how the nurse got the disease is still underway, CDC representatives are now on the scene "watching as workers put on and take off protective garb," and "looking at what someone does coming out of the isolation unit," Frieden said.

Personal protective equipment -- the head to toe "spacesuit" gear -- is impervious to the infectious bodily fluids that can spread Ebola from person to person. But for health care workers, taking off contaminated gear without infecting themselves is tricky and requires training and practice.

Another way Pham might have gotten the disease is through the "the interventions that were done to try desperately to keep the index patient alive, (including) dialysis and intubation. These are two procedures which can result in the spread of infectious material," Frieden said on Sunday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases was asked on ABC's "Good Morning America" if federal health authorities should consider requiring that Ebola patients be sent only to highly specialized "containment" hospitals.

"That is something that should be seriously considered," Fauci said.

However, Frieden indicated at Monday's news conference that all hospitals should be prepared to handle potential patients.

Duncan, who arrived in the U.S. from Liberia Sept. 20, first sought medical care for fever and abdominal pain Sept. 25. He told a nurse he had traveled from Africa, but he was sent home. He returned Sept. 28 and was placed in isolation because of suspected Ebola.

Liberia is one of the three West African countries most affected by the Ebola epidemic, which has killed more than 4,000 people, according to World Health Organization figures. The others are Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Texas health officials have been closely monitoring nearly 50 people who had or may have had close contact with Duncan after he started showing symptoms but before he was diagnosed with the disease.

Pham reported a fever Friday night as part of a self-monitoring regimen required by the CDC.

Another person described as a "close contact" of the health worker has been proactively placed in isolation. Officials said there is a dog in the nurse's apartment, and they are trying to find a location to monitor and care for the animal. They do not believe the pet has any signs of Ebola. A dog belonging to an infected Spanish nurse was euthanized, drawing thousands of complaints.

The hospital where Pham worked said its emergency department is diverting ambulances to other hospitals, though is still accepting walk-in patients.

Health care workers treating Ebola patients are among the most vulnerable, even when wearing protective gear.

Nurses at many hospitals "are alarmed at the inadequate preparation they see," read a statement from Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the National Nurses United union. More than 370 health care workers in West Africa have fallen ill or died since the epidemic began earlier this year.

Starting Sunday, the CDC began limiting the number of Ebola patients a facility can treat, reports CBS News correspondent Vicente Arenas.