CDC Monitoring 76 Health Workers, Regrets Not Sending Robust Team Sooner

The CDC said Tuesday that 76 additional healthcare workers who provided some sort of care for 42-year-old Thomas Eric Duncan before his death last week are now being monitored.

The news comes two days after the world learned that a 26-year-old critical care nurse named Nina Pham somehow became infected during her “extensive contact” with Duncan. She was wearing a gown, glove, mask, and protective shield during the treatment.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said investigators pored through medical records to identify all who either had contact with Duncan or his blood during the days he was receiving care at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas. He died last Wednesday.

“It’s very anxiety provoking to have been, had a potential exposure to Ebola,” Frieden said. “When I got back from West Africa I had gone into Ebola treatment units and let me tell you, every time I had the slightest sore throat or headache I was concerned and that’s what we want health care workers to do.”

Prior to this, health officials were taking the temperature of 48 individuals twice daily who had some sort of contact with Duncan prior to being isolated in his own ward on Sept. 29. They will continue to be monitored through the 21-day incubation period, which ends Oct. 19. While it is possible to become symptomatic, the risk is much lower this many days after possible exposure, Frieden said.

Pham came into contact with one person after she became symptomatic this weekend. That individual works at the Fort Worth eye care company Alcon and was admitted to Presbyterian without symptoms. Dallas Animal Services moved Pham’s dog, Bentley, to a safe place on Monday and is reportedly doing well. His waste will be put in barrels and all workers are wearing protective gear.

Pham received a blood plasma transfusion from Dr. Kent Brantly, the Fort Worth doctor who survived Ebola. Frieden said she is doing well and is helping public health officials walk through her steps to find how she was exposed to the virus. Meanwhile, the CDC has sent more than 20 staffers to Presbyterian to help provide care. Two are from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where Brantly received treatment after being transported from Africa.

Frieden said he regretted not sending the more full CDC response team to the hospital sooner: “I wish we had put a team like this on the ground the day the patient, the first patient, was diagnosed,” he said. “That might have prevented this infection.”

“In Dallas, what we’ve done over the past 48 hours to improve infection control there is send a team into the field and we’ve sent CDC’s most experienced staff, people who have worked on Ebola outbreaks for decades, people who have stopped Ebola outbreaks in very difficult situations in Africa,” Frieden said. “We’re working hand in glove, side-by-side with the folks at the hospital and with the teams from the health departments.”


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