US rethinks Ebola response as second Dallas nurse is diagnosed

A second nurse has been diagnosed with Ebola, with a nurses' union saying safety protocols at a Dallas hospital were inconsistent. The CDC is forming new response units.

LM Otero/AP
The two nurses diagnosed with Ebola both treated Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

A flawed response to the first case of Ebola in the United States has led to a second nurse being diagnosed.

Wednesday morning, the Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed the diagnosis of a second nurse that helped care for Liberian Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan at Dallas's Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital before his death last week. A nurse named Nina Pham was diagnosed over the weekend and is now being treated.

The announcement came as the director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tom Frieden, acknowledged that his agency was too slow in responding to the situation at the Dallas hospital. Failure to follow protocol was the cause for the new cases, health officials have said, but a nurses' union, Nurses United, cited unnamed nurses who claimed protocols changed constantly as the hospital tried to figure out what to do with Mr. Duncan.

The union also claimed that needless numbers of people were exposed to Duncan as soiled bedclothes and other detritus piled up in his room.

The flawed response isn’t surprising in many ways, given that this has been the US health care system’s first test with the illness. The failure to completely contain the virus has forced the CDC to create a new “Ebola response unit” to help other hospitals prepare as the agency acknowledges the US may see more cases. One part of that plan is to limit exposure of victims to fewer nurses and doctors.

"Ebola is unfamiliar," Dr. Frieden said, stressing that getting the response "right is really, really important."

"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" the additional diagnoses.

Frieden has vowed that the agency is prepared to stop the illness “in its tracks” but acknowledged on Tuesday that fear of the illness among health care workers is a problematic aspect of the response.

Public health officials reiterated Tuesday that the risk of the public contracting Ebola is “exceedingly low” as it does not spread through the air.

The illness has become a global crisis after the deaths of 4,500 people in West Africa in the largest outbreak of its kind. The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the survival rate has fallen from 50 percent to 30 percent, and it predicts as many as 10,000 new cases by Christmas. In recent weeks, new cases have been diagnosed in the US and Europe. Seven patients have been treated or are being treated in the US, and so far Mr. Duncan is the only one to die.

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