Seventy-six hospital workers who treated an Ebola patient who died in Dallas last week or dealt with his blood are now being "actively monitored" for signs of the virus after a nurse contracted the disease from the same patient, a top federal health official said Tuesday, as he expressed regret for not having responded more aggressively sooner.
They join 48 other people who had or may have had contact with Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan before the Liberian national was admitted to a Dallas hospital, as well as one person who had contact with nurse Nina Pham, 26, after she was infected, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the federal Centers for Disease Control.
Frieden said that with the benefit of hindsight, CDC should have initially dispatched "a more robust hospital infection team" to Dallas when Duncan was diagnosed with Ebola there late last month, as opposed to after Pham's diagnosis, as he has now done.
"I wish we had put a team like this on the ground the day the first patient was diagnosed. That might have prevented this infection" of Pham, he said.
Pham is the first person to contract Ebola while in the United States. What caused her infection remains unknown, but the fact that it happened at all has lead CDC to "rethink" the way it tries to control Ebola from spreading to care-givers, Frieden has said.
"We should have put an even larger team on the ground immediately, we will do that from now on whenever there's a confirmed case," Frieden said during a briefing from CDC headquarters in Atlanta Tuesday. Such a team has been sent in the past two days to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas to augment another CDC team that was already in place there, he said.
"We've sent CDC's most experienced staff, people who have worked on Ebola outbreaks for decades, people who have stopped Ebola outbreaks ... in Africa," Frieden said.
"Most importantly," Frieden said, he has ordered that there be a "site manager" around the clock overseeing infection control efforts in Texas Presbyterian during Pham's treatment there.
That manager and their team is "looking at every step in the procedure" of how health-care workers are treating Pham and how they are putting on and taking off protective garb, Frieden said. Two nurses who dealt with the recent Ebola cases of Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol are being sent to Dallas, he said. Both Brantly and Writebol survived.
"Secondly, we're enhancing training" in how to identify people with Ebola and how to deal with suspected cases, he said.