DALLAS (AP) — A Texas health care worker tested positive for Ebola even though she wore full protective gear while caring for a hospitalized patient who later died from the virus, health officials said Sunday. If the preliminary diagnosis is confirmed, it would be the first known case of the disease being contracted or transmitted in the U.S.
Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the diagnosis shows there was a clear breach of safety protocol and all those who treated Thomas Eric Duncan are now considered potentially exposed.
The worker wore a gown, gloves, mask and shield while she cared for Duncan during his second visit to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, said Dr. Daniel Varga of Texas Health Resources, which runs the hospital. Frieden said the worker has not been able to identify a specific breach of protocol that might have led to her being infected.
Duncan, who arrived in the U.S. from Liberia to visit family on Sept. 20, first sought medical care for fever and abdominal pain on 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. He died Wednesday.
Liberia is one of the three countries most affected by the ongoing Ebola epidemic, which has killed more than 4,000 people, almost all of them in West Africa, according to World Health Organization figures published Friday. 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 in the days after he started showing symptoms.
The health care worker reported a fever Friday night as part of a self-monitoring regimen required by the CDC, Varga said. He said another person is in isolation, and the hospital has stopped accepting new emergency room patients. Frieden said officials are now evaluating and will monitor any workers who may have been exposed while Duncan was in the hospital.
“We knew a second case could be a reality, and we’ve been preparing for this possibility,” said Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. “We are broadening our team in Dallas and working with extreme diligence to prevent further spread.”