Shit just got a little bit closer to real. Officials at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital announced, Sunday morning, that a health care worker who was involved in treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person in the U.S. to die of the Ebola virus, has been diagnosed with Ebola. If that’s not real enough for you, the infected worker was fully protected during Duncan’s treatment, and was not among health care workers who were considered “high risk.”
At a press conference Sunday morning, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Dan Varga announced that one of Thomas Eric Duncan’s caregivers had testedpositive for Ebola Saturday night, and is now in stable condition in isolation. Dr. Varga also announced that all emergency room traffic is being diverted to other hospitals:
Later in the presser, Vargas answered questions briefly, and at times, unnervingly. The health care worker was in contact with Duncan after his second trip to the hospital, not on his first trip to the emergency room, when he was sent home. Vargas was unable to discuss the particular method of transmission, but delivered some disturbing information about the context of that transmission, and a chillingly understated assessment of it:
“How disturbing it is that, even after those precautions, this person still contracted the disease.”
“We’re very concerned.”
“It’s got to be scary for workers that have followed the CDC guidelines to still get infected, how are you assuring people that they can be protected?”
(Deep Breath) (PAUSE) “We’re still confident…”
The reaction to Ebola has thus far been restricted to outright mockery of anyone who’s at all worried about the disease, and all-out batshit panic. This latest case shouldn’t result in either of those things, but in a sober realization that while there are many comforting scientific facts in our corner, this is still uncharted territory. Personally, I’m much more comforted by the knowledge that our medical professionals are starting to realize there are things they don’t know, rather than pretending to know things they don’t.
Late Saturday, a preliminary blood test on a care-giver at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas showed positive for Ebola. The healthcare worker had been under the self-monitoring regimen prescribed by the CDC, based on involvement in caring for patient Thomas Eric Duncan during his inpatient care that started on September 28.
Individuals being monitored are required to take their temperature twice daily. As a result of that procedure, the care-giver notified the hospital of imminent arrival and was immediately admitted to the hospital in isolation. The entire process, from the patient’s self-monitoring to the admission into isolation, took less than 90 minutes. The patient’s condition is stable. A close contact has also been proactively placed in isolation. The care-giver and the family have requested total privacy, so we can’t discuss any further details of the situation.
We have known that further cases of Ebola are a possibility among those who were in contact with Mr. Duncan before he passed away last week. The system of monitoring, quarantine and isolation was established to protect those who cared for Mr. Duncan as well as the community at large by identifying any potential ebola cases as early as possible and getting those individuals into treatment immediately.
Finally, we have put the ED on “diversion” until further notice because of limitations in staffed capacity — meaning ambulances are not currently bringing patients to our emergency department. While we are on diversion we are also using this time to further expand the margin of safety by triple-checking our full compliance with updated CDC guidelines. We are also continuing to monitor all staff who had some relation to Mr. Duncan’s care even if they are not assumed to be at significant risk of infection.
All of these steps are being taken so the public and our own employees can have complete confidence in the safety and integrity of our facilities and the care we provide.