Aid group leader: Africa's Ebola standards higher than CDC's

Aid group leader: Africa's Ebola standards higher than CDC's
© Getty Images

U.S. standards for protecting healthcare workers from Ebola are weaker than those widely used in West Africa, according to the leader of a group treating victims of the virus in Liberia.

“We’re not comfortable with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)] procedures,” Ken Isaacs, the vice president of Samaritan's Purse, told The Hill.

ADVERTISEMENT

When Samaritan's Purse health workers treat patients in Liberia, they wear two pairs of gloves and spray themselves with disinfectant twice before leaving the isolation ward. They have a three-foot “no touch” policy and hold safety meetings every day.

In U.S. hospitals — such as Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, which has had three cases of Ebola — workers don't have to hose down their gear and are told it’s OK for gloves to expose their wrists.

“If you slip, and you touch your skin on the wrist, you’re going to get Ebola,” said Isaacs, who has worked on-the-ground disaster relief in countries like Haiti, the Philippines and Bosnia.

“Can we trust CDC? They said they were going to stop it in its tracks, but I don’t know." 

The CDC has faced a tide of criticism this week after two nurses contracted Ebola after treating a Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, who was diagnosed with the disease in Dallas.

Both nurses had cared for Duncan daily, but because he was not immediately diagnosed with Ebola at the hospital, they reportedly did not wear special protective gear for two days during that treatment. 

CDC protocols only require double gloving — as well as shoe or leg coverings — in circumstances where there are “copious amounts of blood, other body fluids, vomit, or feces.”

Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, has said “any hospital with an intensive care unit” can stop the disease from spreading. He told reporters Wednesday that the CDC still does not know how the two nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, became infected. President Obama has ordered an expedited investigation examining the missteps.

National Nurses United, the country’s largest nurses union, has unleashed fierce criticism of the hospital this week, alleging that the disease spread because of incompetent management and poor training.

Brianna Aguirre, a nurse at the Dallas hospital, told NBC's “Today Show” on Thursday that she has watched people at her hospital “violate basic principles of nursing care and medical care.”

She said her garb left parts of her neck exposed, and some nurses would use tape to cover the area. She added that potentially exposed nurses would go into other patients’ rooms without disinfectants.

The CDC raised its standards for protective gear this week to include garb that does not expose a worker's neck. It also added “an enhanced and detailed step-by-step disinfection of hands.”

The hospital released a statement Thursday saying its staff wore protective gear “as recommended by the CDC at the time.”

“Staff had shoe covers, face shields were required, and an N-95 mask was optional — again, consistent with the CDC guidelines at the time,” the hospital’s statement reads. It also says that the hospital “sought additional guidance and clarity” from the CDC.

Pham and Vinson were among the more than 70 healthcare workers who cared for Duncan, who at times had “extensive production of body fluids,” Frieden said. None of those healthcare workers were on the CDC’s list of people to monitor because of exposure to Duncan.

Isaacs said all nurses should have been constantly monitored for 21 days after their exposure to Duncan, who died last week. During a 21-day monitoring period, staff are also required to report their temperature four times a day.

CDC’s policy says those people don't need to be isolated, which Isaacs said is basically telling them that they “can live a normal life.”

“I don’t think that’s safe, Samaritans Purse doesn't think that’s safe,” Isaacs said.

After two of its workers were diagnosed, the hospital announced late Wednesday that any of its “impacted employees” can request a room at the hospital to avoid potential exposure to others.

“We are doing this for our employees’ peace of mind and comfort. This is not a medical recommendation,” the hospital said. It also said the affected employees have been asked “to be the good citizens” and avoid public transportation.

Dr. Daniel Varga, chief clinical officer at the hospital, is expected to apologize for the potentially deadly mistakes in prepared testimony for a Thursday House hearing. Frieden will testify at that hearing.

Fears were raised Wednesday after the CDC announced that Vinson had flown from Cleveland to Dallas on a commercial flight just hours before she began showing symptoms. Frieden said that all 132 passengers are now asked to self-report and undergo monitoring out of an abundance of caution.

Frieden said Vinson "should not have" flown, though the risk of transmission was “extremely low” because Vinson had no Ebola-like symptoms. While she had a 99.5 fever, he said it didn’t meet the threshold for Ebola.

Isaacs said he was alarmed by CDC’s response.

“To this day, in Liberia, if someone has a temperature of 99.5, they are not getting on the airplane,” Issacs said.