No one as yet knows how the United States’ second Ebola patient — the first believed to have contracted the disease on American soil — became infected. We know that the person, a female nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, picked up the disease from recently diseased Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan, with whom she had extensive contact. We know she got sick despite wearing protective gear. We know that authorities say there was a breach of protocol, but can’t yet identify what it might have been. Of course, this means other health-care workers could have contracted the illness in like fashion, but perhaps are not yet exhibiting symptoms.
That can take up to 21 days.
Meanwhile, Centers for Disease Control chief Dr. Tom Frieden said that it is “deeply concerning that this infection occurred.” Some would label this understatement, given how affected individuals can come into contact with numerous others before being isolated. As The Guardian’s Tom Dart wrote, referring to the Dallas nurse:
The woman was not among the 48 people officials are monitoring during the virus’s 21-day incubation period who may have contact with Duncan and are so far asymptomatic. [Texas health commissioner David] Lakey said health officials were working to identify people who may have had contact with her once she started showing symptoms and as a result became contagious.
Frieden said that so far they had found only one such person, who was “under active monitoring”, but “it is possible that other individuals were exposed”.
And there’s another cause for concern: If trained and equipped Western health-care workers can contract Ebola — and the Dallas case is the second of this kind, the first occurring in Spain — some may wonder if the disease is more contagious than authorities care to admit. Writing of the Spanish case and speaking to the ease of transmission, Dart writes:
Teresa Romero, a 44-year-old Spanish nurse, contracted Ebola after caring for a priest who had been repatriated from west Africa. She is being treated in a Madrid hospital and has told El Pais that she believes she may have made a mistake when taking off her protective suit, perhaps touching her face with her gloves.
Frieden said the second patient in Dallas has been interviewed but so far “that worker has not been able to identify a specific breach” which may have resulted in her exposure.
So one woman perhaps just touched her face with her gloves; the other hasn’t a clue how she contracted Ebola. It’s no wonder Dr. Frieden warned, “We know that even a single lapse or breach can result in infection.” But then there is something many critics do wonder:
With such apparent ease of transmission, why are individuals from affected nations still allowed entry into the US?