DALLAS — A Texas health care worker who treated the Liberian visitor who died of Ebola this week has now tested positive for the virus.
“A health care worker at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital who provided care for the Ebola patient hospitalized there has tested positive for Ebola in a preliminary test at the state public health laboratory in Austin,” reads a statement issued Sunday morning by the Texas Department of State Health Services. “Confirmatory testing will be conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.”
The department outlines that the employee, who is not yet being identified, reported a low grade fever on Friday and was isolated while tests were conducted. Late Saturday, test results were positive for Ebola.
“We knew a second case could be a reality, and we’ve been preparing for this possibility,” said Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. “We are broadening our team in Dallas and working with extreme diligence to prevent further spread.”
As previously reported, Thomas Eric Duncan of Liberia was being cared for at Texas Presbyterian Hospital last week after testing positive for Ebola. His case was considered the first diagnosis in the United States since he had been asymptomatic until days after his arrival on American soil. Duncan continued to fight for his life until he passed away on Wednesday from the virus.
The new case of Ebola being reported today may now be the first actual transmission of the disease in the nation. It is not yet known how the health care worker contracted the virus from Duncan since reports state that he or she was wearing full protective gear. However, Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated on Sunday that he believes the case shows that there may have been a breach of safety protocol at the hospital. He stated that even removing safety gear improperly can lead to contamination.
Nonetheless, officials are reiterating that Ebola can only be transferred through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected individual, such as blood, saliva or urine.
“I want to stress an important fact. You cannot contract Ebola other than from bodily fluids of a symptomatic Ebola victim,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a press conference this morning. “You cannot contract Ebola by walking by people in the street or from contacts who are not symptomatic. There is nothing about this case that changes that basic premise of science.”
“And so it’s important that while this is obviously bad news, it is not news that should bring about panic,” he continued. “We have a strategy to monitor this and we will go to that strategy to keep the community safe.”
“We heard about this around midnight and have been working throughout the morning to make sure the citizens of Dallas are safe when they wake up,” added Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. “I believe I can say they are.”
The health care worker has been interviewed to identify others that he or she may have come in contact with since developing symptoms. Approximately 80 other hospital employees are being monitored and 48 others who had come in contact with Duncan are being interviewed by the CDC.
Until now, Ebola has been exclusive to West Africa, with Liberia reportedly being the hardest hit. Over 3,000 people have died from the virus since its initial outbreak in March. American Christian humanitarian organizations have been working in Africa to assist those that are ill, but at least two people have contracted the disease themselves while seeking to help others.