A second health care worker tested positive for Ebola late Tuesday, the Texas Department of Health said in a statement early Wednesday morning.
The unidentified worker reported a fever late Tuesday and was immediately isolated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. The individual was among those who helped care for Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S.
Officials at a press conference Wednesday morning said this health worker ”preliminarily tested positive for Ebola.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will conduct an additional test for absolute confirmation that the individual has the virus.
“Like Nina Pham, this is a heroic person, a person who has dedicated her life… to serving others,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said at the press conference, making a nod to the nurse diagnosed with Ebola Sunday after caring for Duncan. ” This is a person is dealing with this diagnosis with the grit and grace and determination like Nina has dealt with this diagnosis.”
Officials said that they have interviewed the health worker and identified others who she may have come into contact with while monitoring herself for any symptoms. Early Wednesday morning as people were waking up, officials were at the apartment building where this nurse lived, knocking on doors to alert them to the situation. This woman lived alone and did not have any pets, officials said.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said at the press conference that “phase one” of decontamination of any common areas and areas outside the apartment have already taken place. He added that he expected “phase two” – the internal cleaning of her apartment and car – to be complete by this afternoon.
With this second infected health care worker and 75 others who had cared for Duncan still being monitored, Rawlings warned that “it may get worse before it gets better.”
“I think there are two things that I hearken back to this: The only way that we were going to beat this is person by person, moment by moment, detail by detail,” he said. “The second is we want to minimize rumors and maximize facts. We want to deal with facts, not fear.”
On Sunday, officials announced that Pham was diagnosed with Ebola, though it was unclear exactly how she contracted the virus. Officials said on Tuesday that she was in good condition.
When asked about this issue of how health care workers were exposed to the virus when taking precautions with protective gear and other procedures, Dr. Daniel Varga with Texas Health Presbyterian said they are “looking at every element” that could have led to these new infections.
“I don’t think we have a systematic institutional problem,” Varga said. “We’re looking at every element of our personal protective equipment and infection control inside the hospital. We don’t have an answer for this right now but we’re looking at every possible element.”
However, the fact that this second person was in isolation within 90 minutes of taking her temperature and seeing she had a fever is “continued evidence that our monitoring program is working,” Varga said.
Judge Jenkins added more about this monitoring program later in the news conference.
“What this case further illustrates… is Ebola comes from [contact with] body fluids of a symptomatic Ebola victim. That’s how [two health care workers] contracted the disease and that’s how Eric Duncan contracted the disease,” he said.
While Jenkins said that they are not going to set up “protective orders” for the 75 other health care workers being monitored, they are setting up a place where “if they want to be away from their families, they can choose to do so.”
The 48 other people that Duncan had contact with who were not health care workers are nearing the end of the 21-day monitoring program and are asymptomatic, according to health officials.