Ebola patient flew day before symptoms; CDC wants to talk to passengers

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Airplane interior. From Wikimedia.

DALLAS — The second Dallas health care worker with Ebola was on a flight from Cleveland to Dallas on Monday — the day before she reported symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

Because of the proximity in time between the Monday evening flight and the first report of her illness, the CDC wants to interview all 132 passengers on her flight — Frontier Airlines Flight 1143 from Cleveland to Dallas/Fort Worth, which landed at 8:16 p.m. CT Monday, the CDC said.

Frontier Airlines issued this statement following the announcement:

“At approximately 1:00 a.m. MT on October 15, Frontier was notified by the CDC that a customer traveling on Frontier Airlines flight 1143 Cleveland to Dallas/Fort Worth on Oct. 13 has since tested positive for the Ebola virus. The flight landed in Dallas/Fort Worth at 8:16 p.m. local and remained overnight at the airport having completed its flying for the day at which point the aircraft received a thorough cleaning per our normal procedures which is consistent with CDC guidelines prior to returning to service the next day. It was also cleaned again in Cleveland last night. Previously the customer had traveled from Dallas Fort Worth to Cleveland on Frontier flight 1142 on October 10.

Customer exhibited no symptoms or sign of illness while on flight 1143, according to the crew. Frontier responded immediately upon notification from the CDC by removing the aircraft from service and is working closely with CDC to identify and contact customers who may traveled on flight 1143.

Customers who may have traveled on either flight should contact CDC at 1 800 CDC-INFO.

The safety and security of our customers and employees is our primary concern. Frontier will continue to work closely with CDC and other governmental agencies to ensure proper protocols and procedures are being followed.”

The CDC is expected to address the public at 10 a.m. regarding the incident.

President Barack Obama has postponed his planned Wednesday travel to New Jersey and Connecticut, and in the afternoon will hold a White House meeting of “cabinet agencies coordinating the government’s response to the Ebola outbreak,” the White House said. Obama will make brief remarks to the news media at the end of the meeting, the White House said.

The worker with Ebola should not have traveled on a commercial airplane, because she had cared for initial Dallas patient Thomas Eric Duncan, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said Wednesday.

The CDC will ensure from now on that people who are being monitored for possible Ebola symptoms will not travel, other than “controlled movement.”

The worker, a woman who lives alone, was quickly moved into isolation at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, authorities said Wednesday.

The news cast further doubt on the hospital’s ability to handle Ebola and protect employees. It’s the same hospital that initially sent Thomas Eric Duncan home, even though he had a fever and had traveled from West Africa. By the time he returned to the hospital, his symptoms had worsened. He died while being treated by medical staff, including the two women who have now contracted the disease.

“I don’t think we have a systematic institutional problem,” Dr. Daniel Varga, chief clinical officer of Texas Health Resources, told reporters Wednesday,

facing questions about the hospital’s actions.

Medical staff “may have done some things differently with the benefit of what we know today,” he said, adding, “no one wants to get this right more than our hospital.”

People in the health care worker’s office building were informed when officials went door to door, and also through early morning reverse 911 calls, officials said.

The health care worker had no pets, authorities said.

Seventy-five health care workers in Dallas are being monitored for any Ebola symptoms, Varga said.

Separately, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who is overseeing the response efforts, said 48 other people in the community still are being monitored after having contact with Duncan, who was Dallas’ first Ebola patient. Those 48 are asymptomatic, and Sunday will mark the end of the window in which they could get sick.

The second worker reported a fever Tuesday and was immediately isolated, health department spokeswoman Carrie Williams said. The virus is not contagious before there are symptoms.

A preliminary Ebola test was done late Tuesday at the state public health laboratory in Austin, and the results came back around midnight. A second test will be conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

“Health officials have interviewed the latest patient to quickly identify any contacts or potential exposures, and those people will be monitored,” the health department said.

The worker’s apartment and car will be cleaned Wednesday, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said.

Official: Duncan should have been moved

An official close to the situation says that in hindsight, Duncan should have been transferred immediately to either Emory University Hospital in Atlanta or Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Those hospitals are among only four in the country that have biocontainment units and have been preparing for years to treat a highly infectious disease like Ebola.

“If we knew then what we know now about this hospital’s ability to safely care for these patients, then we would have transferred him to Emory or Nebraska,” the official told CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

“I think there are hospitals that are more than ready, but I think there are some that are not.”

The second time

The latest infection marks the second-ever transmission of Ebola in the United States. Both stemmed from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

Late last week, nurse Nina Pham tested positive for Ebola. She also took care of Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. Duncan died last week.

On Tuesday, Pham said she was doing well.

“I am blessed by the support of family and friends, and am blessed to be cared for by the best team of doctors and nurses in the world,” she said.

Troubling allegations

Also Tuesday, National Nurses United made troubling allegations about the hospital, claiming “guidelines were constantly changing” and “there were no protocols” about how to deal with the deadly virus.”

“The protocols that should have been in place in Dallas were not in place, and that those protocols are not in place anywhere in the United States as far as we can tell,” NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro said. “We’re deeply alarmed.”

Nurses were told to wrap their necks with medical tape when equipment left their necks exposed; they felt unsupported and unprepared, and they received no hands-on training, union co-president Deborah Burger said.

A Texas Health Presbyterian spokesman did not respond to the specific allegations but said patient and employee safety is the hospital’s top priority.

Changing the protocol

The CDC is establishing an Ebola response team so that whenever there’s a confirmed case anywhere in the country, “we will put a team on the ground within hours,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the centers.

Such a team, Frieden said, might have prevented Pham from contracting the disease.

Global epidemic

While the Texas hospital deals with its third Ebola patient, the situation in West Africa is getting increasingly dire.

More than 4,000 people have died from Ebola this year in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

And there could be 10,000 new Ebola cases per week in the three countries by the end of this year as the outbreak spreads, the World Health Organization warned Tuesday.

U.S. President Barack Obama says he’ll reach out directly to heads of state to encourage other countries to do more to fight back.

“There are a number of countries that have capacity that have not yet stepped up,” he said. “Those that have stepped up, all of us, are going to have to do more.”

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