CDC: Second Ebola-infected nurse ‘should not have’ traveled
Federal officials acknowledged Wednesday that there had been holes in the nation’s response to Ebola after revealing that a Dallas healthcare worker had flown across the country after “extensive contact” with an infected patient.
Amber Vinson, a 29-year-old nurse at Texas Presbyterian Hospital, flew from Cleveland to Dallas just hours before she began displaying symptoms of Ebola, which potentially exposed 132 people to the virus.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the nurse “should not have been allowed to travel” and vowed to prevent other exposed healthcare workers from doing so.
“We will, from this moment forward, ensure that no other individual who’s being monitored for exposure undergoes travel in any way other than in ‘controlled movement,’” Dr. Tom Frieden said during a press briefing. He added that the risk of transmission was “extremely low,” though Vinson had reported a slight fever at the time of the flight.
Separately, White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged “shortcomings” in the federal response to the Ebola outbreak as criticism of the CDC and the administration mounted.
Reps. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Rep. Tom Marino (Pa.) on Wednesday became the first members of Congress to call on Frieden to resign.
When asked why Vinson had been allowed to fly, federal officials said they did not yet have answers. Under current CDC protocols, individuals who have been exposed to Ebola are instructed not to travel on commercial airplanes, ships or trains.
Earnest said the CDC is reviewing all procedures at the Dallas hospital.
“It’s not clear exactly what protocols were in place and how those protocols were implemented,” Earnest said during a briefing Wednesday.
Vinson was one of about 50 healthcare workers who helped treat the country’s first Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, who died last week. Unlike the 48 people who have been actively monitored after potential contact with Duncan, the hospital staff were told to “self-monitor” for symptoms.
The first healthcare worker to become infected, Nina Pham, was diagnosed late Saturday after she took herself to the hospital for a fever. Both Vinson and Pham cared for Duncan on a daily basis when he had “extensive production of body fluids,” Frieden said Wednesday.
He said that contact took place before the CDC arrived on site. Duncan hadn’t tested positive until Sept. 30, five days after he reported symptoms.
The CDC has an amplified role in the Dallas hospital’s day-to-day care since Pham became infected this weekend. Frieden said Tuesday that if the CDC had been “more hands-on with the hospital,” it could have prevented the spread among the healthcare workers.
The Dallas hospital’s error-ridden response has drawn a firestorm of criticism, including accusations from a national nursing union claiming that workers were unprepared for Ebola.
In an interview with “The Today Show” on Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell skirted two questions about whether she had confidence in the hospital.
She added that the federal government could have provided “much better” oversight at the hospital, which has come under scathing criticism from a national union representing nurses.
To ensure that Ebola is not spread through Vinson’s flight, the CDC is reaching out to all 132 passengers.
That approach marks a departure from the administration’s previous response to the potential spread of Ebola on airplanes. After reports showed that Duncan had taken three separate flights
“It is important for people to have access to that information so they can get the facts about what kind of risks they are facing,” Earnest said Wednesday.
Each passenger will be interviewed by a public health expert to determine whether they had potential contact with the infected woman, who has not yet been identified.
Federal health officials have previously said that individuals infected with Ebola cannot pass along the virus unless they are exhibiting symptoms. Crew members did not notice any “signs or symptoms of illness” while she was on the flight, the CDC said.
Airlines with routes through West Africa have already been on high alert for Ebola. The new travel warning is likely to complicate the ongoing debate over international Ebola-related travel restrictions.
Duncan, the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola outside of Africa, had also flown into the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. It was not one of the five U.S. airports picked to have additional screening for Ebola, though several Texas lawmakers have requested extra oversight there.
–This report was updated at 3:51 p.m.