DALLAS (Reuters) – Medical experts need to rethink how highly infectious diseases are handled in the United States, a US health official said on Monday, after a Dallas nurse contracted Ebola despite wearing protective gear while caring for a dying Liberian patient.
As an outbreak of the deadly virus spread beyond West Africa, hospitals and nursing associations across the United States were taking a closer look at how prepared they were to handle such infections.
“We have to rethink the way we address Ebola infection control. Even a single infection is unacceptable,” Dr Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters.
“The care of Ebola is hard. We’re working to make it safer and easier.”
Frieden said health authorities are still investigating how the nurse became infected while caring for Thomas Eric Duncan in an isolation ward at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.
Duncan died last week and the nurse is the first person to contract the virus on US soil, taking concerns about containing its spread to new heights.
The infected nurse is Nina Pham, 26, according to a Sunday school teacher at the church where her family worships and through a public records check of her address. Attempts to reach her family were not immediately successful.
The family was in shock when it learned the young woman had contracted Ebola, said Tom Ha, a close friend of the Pham family.
“The mother was crying, very upset,” he told Reuters.
The Dallas nurse is “clinically stable,” Frieden said, and the CDC is monitoring others involved in Duncan’s care in case they show symptoms of the virus.
Pham has received a blood transfusion from a person who has survived an Ebola infection, Dallas broadcasters WFAA and others reported, citing Father Jim Khoi, who is Pham’s priest.
A spokeswoman for Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where the nurse is being treated, said she had no information on this.
Meanwhile, the condition of freelance American cameraman Ashoka Mukpo continued to improve at Nebraska Medical Centre after he received a blood transfusion from another patient who recovered from Ebola.
Mukpo tweeted: “…feeling like I’m on the road to good health.”
In another post, he said, “Now that I’ve had first hand exp with this scourge of a disease, I’m even more pained at how little care sick West Africans are receiving.”
Frieden also apologised for remarks on Sunday, when the nurse’s infection was first disclosed, that suggested she was responsible for a breach in protocols that exposed her to the virus.
Some healthcare experts said the comments failed to address deep gaps in training hospital staff to deal with Ebola.
“I’m sorry if that was the impression given,” Frieden said. He said the agency would take steps to increase the awareness of Ebola at the nation’s hospitals and training for staff.