US Ebola infection sparks fears on safety protocols

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WASHINGTON D.C.: A Texas health care worker has become the first person to contract Ebola on American soil, authorities confirmed on Sunday, sparking jitters that safety precautions taken by medical staff could be insufficient.

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Top US health officials have said a breach of protocol was to blame for the new Ebola patient—the second person infected outside Africa and the second diagnosed in the United States.

The news deals a blow to global efforts to stem the epidemic, which has already claimed more than 4,000 lives, most of them in the hard-hit West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

“This development is understandably disturbing news for the patient, the patient’s family and colleagues and the greater Dallas community,” the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

But the CDC insisted that any further spread into the community surrounding the Dallas hospital “can be prevented with proper public health measures.”

Earlier, the agency’s chief Thomas Frieden said it was clear that “at some point there was a breach in protocol and that breach in protocol resulted in this infection.”

The CDC has launched a probe, as well as a hunt for more health care workers who may have been exposed to the dangerous virus.

US President Barack Obama said that federal authorities should take “immediate additional steps” to make sure hospitals were ready to follow protocols designed for Ebola patients, according to the White House.

The unidentified female caregiver at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas tested positive for Ebola on Saturday in a preliminary test and is currently in the hospital, in isolation and in stable condition.

“This is not news that should bring about panic,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.

But Dan Varga, the chief clinical officer for Texas Health Resources, said the woman “was following full CDC precautions”—protective gear that would have included a mask, gown and gloves.

Frieden said the woman had “extensive contact” with Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who was diagnosed with Ebola in the United States last month and died in Texas on Wednesday.

“We are evaluating other potential health care worker exposures,” said Frieden. “It is possible that other individuals were exposed.”

Duncan was believed to have been infected before he left Liberia and boarded a plane to visit family in Texas.

Meanwhile in Nebraska, a 33-year-old American photojournalist who became infected with Ebola while working in Liberia was continuing to show improvements, doctors said.

The latest case underlines United Nations fears and growing concerns in the United States about Ebola, for which there is no vaccine or widely available treatment.

AFP

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