Oct 20, 2014
Nina Pham, a nurse at Texas Presbyterian Hospital, contracted Ebola after giving care to a dying Liberian man who entered the state by plane before his symptoms worsened. Thomas Eric Duncan died on October 8 from Ebola. A few days later it was revealed that Pham was infected; she was the first in the US to do so in the current outbreak. A day after Pham was diagnosed with Ebola, a second nurse that treated Thomas Eric Duncan, Amber Vinson, was also diagnosed with Ebola. Now, the CDC and hospital workers are piecing together how they can better keep workers safe by examining the hospital’s records.
Records show that Pham entered the room repeatedly, even up until the day before he died, to help clean and perform medical duties. Her and her coworkers wore protective gear, including masks, gloves, disposable gowns, and full face shields. Even that wasn’t enough. Ebola is primarily spread through contact with bodily fluids. In Duncan’s intensive care unit, nurses and attendants repeatedly cleaned up saliva, diarrhea, inserted tubes into his throat, and wiped saliva from his lips, and collected urine for testing. It is likely that it was through one of these activities that Pham and Vinson contracted the disease.
Even so, they were the only ones of about 70 hospital workers who had some form of contact with Duncan throughout his stay to contract Ebola. Right now, the hospital and its professional organizations are trying to determine if some sort of breach in protocol was responsible for the contraction, as the barriers to be worn should have been enough to prevent spread to the workers (or at least it is believed).
Currently, Pham and Vinson are in isolated units that specialize in treating Ebola. Pham recently received a blood transfusion from an aid worker, Kent Brantly, who had previously contracted and then survived the disease.
One concern could be the amount of time that logs indicate staff spent in contact with the patient. While wearing protective gear, prolonged exposure shouldn’t have been a problem, but obviously something happened along the way. Pham has said that some on staff also helped with emotional support, keeping the patient company through such a terrifying and isolating experience.
It is currently believed that Pham and Vinson are the only aid workers to have contracted Ebola during treatment. Even so, these cases are more than enough to get the CDC concerned and into action. They have announced that they are monitoring continuously all hospital workers who had contact with Duncan, and additionally will be looking into revised protocols to try and shore up any potential loopholes.
Additionally, they have stated that they plan to revise their training procedures and also start re-training or offering refresher courses for hospital staff on handling contagious diseases during an outbreak and more.
Currently, the top suspect for how Pham caught the disease is through improper removal of safety gear. After a worker exits immediate danger, they have to shed their protective clothing and masks. Accidentally touching the wrong part of any of said gear during this time can lead to exposure, which may have been the case at Texas Presbyterian. The CDC reminds everyone that the risk of a full-fledged outbreak of Ebola in the U.S. are miniscule to non-existent, due to modern hygiene habits.