Oct 15, 2014 1:21 PM

2nd Texas health worker tests positive for Ebola

The Associated Press

DALLAS (AP) The Ebola crisis in the U.S. took another alarming turn Wednesday with word that a second Dallas nurse caught the disease from a patient and flew across the Midwest aboard an airliner the day before she fell ill, even though government guidelines should have kept her off the plane.

Amid growing concern, President Barack Obama canceled a campaign trip to address the outbreak.

Though it was not clear how the nurse contracted the virus, the case represented just the latest instance in which the disease that has ravaged one of the poorest corners of the earth West Africa also managed to find weak spots in one of the world's most advanced medical systems.

The second nurse was identified as 29-year-old Amber Joy Vinson. Medical records provided to The Associated Press by Thomas Eric Duncan's family showed she inserted catheters, drew blood and dealt with Duncan's body fluids.

Duncan, who was diagnosed with Ebola after coming to the U.S. from Liberia, died Oct. 8.

Kent State University in Ohio, where three of Vinson's relatives work, confirmed she was the latest patient.

Even though the nurse did not report having a fever until Tuesday, the day after she returned home, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said she should not have boarded a commercial flight.

The nurse also knew before heading home that another nurse, Nina Pham, had been diagnosed with Ebola, and she had a slightly elevated temperature 99.5 degrees, according to government officials.

While in Cleveland, she was contacted by health officials and told that her health would need to be more closely monitored for Ebola, the CDC said. It was unclear whether she was ordered not to fly.

From now on, CDC Director Tom Frieden said, no one else involved in Duncan's care will be allowed to travel "other than in a controlled environment." He cited guidelines that permit charter flights or travel by car but no public transportation.

Ebola patients are not considered contagious until they have symptoms. Frieden said it was unlikely that others on the plane were at risk because the nurse was not vomiting or bleeding.

Even so, the CDC is alerting the 132 passengers who were aboard Frontier Airlines Flight 1143 from Cleveland to Dallas-Fort Worth on Monday "because of the proximity in time between the evening flight and first report of illness the following morning." Officials are asking passengers to call the health agency so they can be monitored. The woman flew from Dallas to Cleveland on Oct. 10.

Kent State said it was asking the workers related to Vinson to stay off campus for 21 days "out of an abundance of caution."

The nurse reported a fever Tuesday and was in isolation within 90 minutes, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said. The Ebola diagnosis was confirmed Wednesday.

"We are looking at every element of our personal protection equipment and infection control in the hospital," said Dr. Daniel Varga, chief clinical officer for Texas Health Resources, which operates Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.

In Washington, the White House said Obama's trip to New Jersey and Connecticut would be postponed to a later date. The president was to meet with top officials who are coordinating the government's response to Ebola.

His decision to nix the trip just a few hours before Air Force One was scheduled to depart reflected escalating concerns about the disease.

The second nurse was to be transferred to a special bio-containment unit at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where other Ebola patients have been treated successfully, Frieden said.

Pham will be monitored in Dallas to determine the best place for her care, Frieden said.

The CDC has acknowledged that the government was not aggressive enough in managing Ebola and containing the virus as it spread from an infected patient to a nurse at a Dallas hospital.

The second case may help health officials determine where the infection-control breach is occurring and make practices safer for health workers everywhere. For example, if both health workers were involved in drawing Duncan's blood, placing an intravenous line or suctioning mucus when Duncan was on a breathing machine, that would be recognized as a particularly high-risk activity. It might also reveal which body fluids pose the greatest risk.

Emergency responders in hazardous-materials suits began decontamination work before dawn Wednesday at the Dallas apartment complex where the second nurse lives.

Police guarded the sidewalk and red tape was tied around a tree to keep people out. Officials said she lives alone with no pets.

Notices handed out to neighbors advised that "a health care worker who lives in your area has tested positive for Ebola."

Ryan Fus, 24, who lives in the same building as the blocked-off apartment, said police knocked on his door before 6 a.m. to notify him and make sure he was all right.

"It's a little scary. It's a little shocking that it's right near me," he said.

Dallas city spokeswoman Sana Syed said a hazardous-materials crew finished cleaning common areas of the complex and that the state was sending a crew to clean the actual apartment.

At least 76 people at the hospital might have been exposed, according to officials, and all are being monitored for fever and other symptoms.


Associated Press Chief Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione and AP reporters Martha Mendoza, Maud Beelman, Matt Sedensky and Alex Sanz in Dallas contributed to this report.


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