As the United States scrambled to shape a newly aggressive strategy to prevent any wider outbreak of Ebola on its own soil, the chief of the Dallas hospital where two nurses contracted the disease after treating a Liberian man before his death on 8 October apologised for mistakes made at the facility.
Questions continued to multiply over whether the US has the ability to shut down the disease within its own borders. It emerged today that the second nurse to be diagnosed with the disease, Amber Vinson, took a commercial flight on Monday from Cleveland to Dallas even though she had called the Center for Disease Control beforehand to report she had a mild temperature of 99.5 degrees. The CDC has since said she should not have been allowed on the flight.
President Barack Obama cancelled plans to travel outside Washington DC on political trips for the second day running as he monitored the response. Meanwhile, officials in Connecticut said they had admitted a patient overnight who appeared to have Ebola-like symptoms, though no final diagnosis had been reached. Testifying at a special hearing on Capitol Hill, Dr Daniel Varga, who leads the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, conceded that protective protocols were not properly implemented when Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan was first admitted. He also said the hospital had given some wrong information to the public. “Unfortunately, in our initial treatment of Mr Duncan, despite our best intentions and a highly skilled medical team, we made mistakes,” he said. “We did not correctly diagnose his symptoms as those of Ebola. We are deeply sorry.” Nurses and doctors were not required to wear full hazmat suits or protective shoe-wear for two days after Mr Duncan’s admission; the patient was vomiting repeatedly and had severe diarrhoea.
Tim Murphy, the Republican congressman chairing the hearing, said it seemed clear that the US had not been properly prepared, that hospitals weren’t ready and employees weren’t properly trained. The country’s top health officials, he said, had been guilty of making “false assumptions” about the country’s ability to respond. That can “get you in a lot of trouble,” he added.
On Wednesday, Mr Obama tried to reassure Americans that the chances of a bigger outbreak of Ebola in the US were “very, very low” and that he had instructed the CDC to take a more aggressive stance to stop it. He also insisted that tackling the disease at its source in West Africa remained the priority.
Americans are nonetheless alarmed. According to a new Ipsos/Reuters poll, four out of five said they were concerned about catching Ebola and almost half said they will avoid international travel.
See the Ebola outbreak mapped
See the Ebola outbreak mapped
1/7 25 March 2014
This outbreak of the Ebola virus first emerged in the Guéckédou region of Guinea, at a crossroads with both Liberia and Sierra Leone
2/7 31 March
On 31 March the WHO confirmed the outbreak was now international, spreading first into Liberia's northern-most Lofa region
3/7 27 May
The virus spread to Sierra Leone at the end of May - just as agencies were hoping the worst was over
4/7 27 July
In Sierra Leone the virus boomed, and then it spread to Nigeria when the Liberian diplomat Patrick Sawyer flew from Monrovia to Lagos
5/7 9 August
The Nigeria cases sparked fears around the world, and there have now been deaths in Spain and Saudi Arabia involving people who had travelled to West Africa. The numbers of cases continue to rise
6/7 17-20 September
In mid-September, Senegal confirmed its first case linked to the Ebola outbreak, a development the WHO described as a top priority emergency. Numbers of cases continued to grow exponentially in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, as experts warned they could number one million by January if not contained
7/7 8 October
Two cases of Ebola have now been reported in the US and Europe - the first times the virus has been contracted among health workers outside Africa
By Tuesday night Ms Vinson had a far higher temperature and on Wednesday she was put in isolation at the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Dr Thomas Frieden, the head of the CDC, told the hearing that despite what has happened over recent days he remained confident that Ebola would not be a threat to the US.Reuse content