How is Dallas coping in face of second Ebola diagnosis?

'It is calmer this time – we have been through it once,' says Dallas Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates, after a nurse was diagnosed with the disease.

Brandon Wade/AP
Disposal barrels are stationed outside the apartment of a health-care worker, who treated Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan and tested positive for the disease, Monday in Dallas.

When news first broke that a man visiting Dallas, Thomas Eric Duncan, had tested positive for Ebola, a creeping sense of unease gripped the city.

Almost two weeks later, after a nurse who helped treat Mr. Duncan, was diagnosed with the disease, city officials’ efforts to quell panic appeared to be at least somewhat successful.

Politicians and health officials appeared to be quicker off the mark this time after the news broke over the weekend, quickly calling an early Sunday morning press conference and sealing off the residence of the patient. 

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings appeared on the street where the nurse lives Sunday morning, hours after her diagnosis was confirmed, while residents woke up to literature about Ebola on their doorsteps. 

For some, the message to keep calm and carry on seemed to be getting through. Initial reaction on the street where the second victim lives was measured. One resident said that she was reassured that, because the nurse, Nina Pham, was a health-care worker, she would have known to take proper precautions.

As the day went on, people resumed normal daily business, spending time outside with their children and taking afternoon strolls.

In the wider Dallas area, there was similar sentiment.

"It is calmer this time – we have been through it once," says Jennifer Staubach Gates, the Dallas councilwoman in whose district Duncan, a Liberian who died Wednesday, was staying. "It is important to point out the transmission this time was in a hospital, not the community... I think the public understands that." 

Ms. Gates, a registered nurse, says she understands the pressures under which health-care professionals operate and how a breach of protocol, which the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention have blamed for Pham’s diagnosis, could have occurred at the hospital.

"That is not to say it is not concerning," she explains. "It is very concerning to me." 

That distinction between taking proper precautions and not panicking is one that US medical experts have repeatedly urged over the past two weeks. The World Health Organization says that more than 4,000 people have died in West Africa during the current Ebola outbreak, the worst since the disease’s discovery in 1978. So far in the US, though, the cases have numbered just two.  

“We need to be concerned, but we don’t want to have a climate of fear,” said Jesse Goodman, a professor of medicine at Georgetown University, in an Associated Press interview on Friday. “We need to take care of the Ebola epidemic, but if we have instead of the Ebola epidemic, an epidemic of fear, we’re going to end up making bad decisions.” 

Judge Clay Jenkins, presiding officer of the Dallas county commissioners court, reiterated that Ebola can only be contracted by coming into contact with the bodily fluids of someone who has been diagnosed with the disease.

And so far, the 48 people being monitored by the CDC for potential exposure to Duncan continue to be symptom-free, Gates points out.

Any additional cases that arise should be looked at individually, along with any related public exposure, she says.

"We don't want to create more alarm," Gates says.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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