Nurse Infected With Ebola Identified

Brian King10/14/14
WebMD Medical Reference

Oct. 13, 2014 -- Nina Pham, a 26-year-old nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, is the first person to catch Ebola in the U.S.

On Monday, Pham’s family confirmed her identity to WFAA, the ABC news affiliate in Dallas, the station said.

She is stable and has been speaking with the CDC as they try to understand how she was exposed to the virus.

Pham was part of the team at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital who was caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian citizen who was infected with Ebola in Liberia before traveling to the U.S. in late September.

She wasn’t one of the 48 people who were already being watched because they had contact with Duncan while he was contagious. Her diagnosis has put the U.S. health care system on alert that better training and protective equipment might be needed before all hospitals can safely care for Ebola patients.

“We have to rethink the way we address Ebola infection control because even a single infection is unacceptable,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, in a news conference on Monday.

Only one person is thought to have been in close contact with Pham when she began showing symptoms. That person is being monitored, Frieden said.

Health officials aren’t sure how Pham was exposed to the virus.  On Sunday, Daniel Varga, MD, chief clinical officer at Texas Health Resources, said she was wearing a gown, gloves, mask, and face shield while she cared for Duncan at the hospital.

Frieden said CDC staff in Dallas had been working “through the night” to review protocols at the hospital to make it “safer and easier” for staff to care for Ebola patients.

Disease detectives are also working to identify and interview “the large number” of hospital workers who were involved in Duncan’s care and make sure they are actively monitored.

“The thinking here is straightforward,” Frieden said. “If this one individual was infected -- and we don’t know how -- within the isolation unit, then it’s possible other individuals could have been infected as well.”

On Monday, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services would not say whether patients are being tested for Ebola.   

On Sunday, Frieden said the nurse had likely been exposed to Ebola because of a “breach in protocol.” On Monday, he tried to clarify those remarks.

“Some interpreted that as finding fault with the hospital or health care worker. I’m sorry if that was the impression given. That was certainly not my intention,” he said.

“What we need to do is all take responsibility for improving the safety of those on the front lines,” he said.

More than 4,000 people have died in the current Ebola outbreak, which has affected the countries of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain, and the United States, according to the World Health Organization.

About 10% of the confirmed infections have been in health care workers. More than 200 of them have died.