The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday said it is starting to “rethink” its Ebola strategy after the first-ever US transmission of the virus put a "relatively large" number of healthcare workers at risk.
A nurse at Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas was diagnosed with Ebola over the weekend, raising questions about the procedures that were followed when treating Thomas Eric Duncan.
The nurse’s infection “doesn’t change the fact that its possible to take care of Ebola safely, but it does change, substantially, how we approach it,” Frieden said.
Frieden said the government would work with state health departments, hospitals, and outside agencies to bolster outreach and training about handling the virus. That effort will "increase awareness of Ebola and increase the ability to respond rapidly,” Frieden said.
“We have to rethink the way we address Ebola infection control because even a single infection is unacceptable,” Frieden said.
The CDC said it does not yet know how the Dallas nurse became infected.
The nurse — who was identified by a family member Monday as 26-year-old Nina Pham — was part of a team of health workers caring for Duncan, a Liberian man who died last week of the virus.
The hospital staff had taken safety precautions while treating Duncan, including wearing protective gear.
Texas state health commissioner David Lakey said during the briefing Monday that he had anticipated there could be an Ebola case among the hospital staff.
"We knew it was a possibility that one of the healthcare workers could become infected," Lakey said.
He and Frieden warned that there could be more cases from the hospital in the coming days, though they don't yet know how many staff members were potentially exposed.
In addition to investigating Duncan’s care, the CDC said it is monitoring care of the nurse now being treated for Ebola to identify ways that the treatment could be made safer.
In particular, the CDC is looking at the hospital's use of protective gear.
Now, every time a nurse put on or takes off protective gear used, he or she is watched by the CDC to ensure it is done safely, Frieden said.
“We’re not just doing an investigation. We’re immediately addressing anything that could make it safer to care for anyone who may have Ebola,” Frieden said.
Frieden also apologized Monday for remarks over the weekend that seemed to suggest the infected nurse was at fault. A national nurses union accused Frieden of trying to "scapegoat" her for the infection.
"I spoke about a breach in protocol, because that's what we speak about in public health when we talk about what needs to happen," Frieden said.
"Some interpreted that as finding fault with the hospital or the healthcare worker. I'm sorry if that was the impression given. That was certainly not my intention,” he said.
National Nurses United has repeatedly warned that nurses are not being adequately trained to care for Ebola patients, despite assurances from public health officials that the system is ready to cope with the virus.
The union says the federal government should be doing more to protect health workers, such as implementing a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan for Ebola, which includes standards for protective gear, isolation rooms and medical waste disposal.
Nearly 80 percent of registered nurses said their hospital has not explained their policies for admitting a potential Ebola patient in a new survey that the union released Monday.
With concerns about Ebola mounting, President Obama called a meeting Monday afternoon with senior members of his administration to discuss the government's Ebola response.
The president will be briefed on the nurse who contracted the virus and will receive an update on “broader efforts to ensure the preparedness of our national health infrastructure,” according to the White House.
—Justin Sink contributed
This story was last updated at 2:26 p.m.