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'Breach In Protocol" Suspected In 2nd Texas Ebola Case


For a woman in Dallas, Texas, the question now is how to survive. She was diagnosed with Ebola after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan who died of it. For public health officials, the bigger question is how the virus spread to a nurse who seemed to take all precautions and also how to keep it from happening again. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has been covering this story. Hi, Rob.


INSKEEP: So who's the latest patient?

STEIN: Well, she was part of a team of health care workers who tried to save the life of Thomas Eric Duncan at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. She spent a lot of time caring for him as it's been described. And they've been taking her own temperature every day as precaution. On Friday, she discovered she had a fever, and she rushed to the hospital where she was put in isolation. And tests over the weekend confirmed everyone's fear; she had Ebola. And she's now listed in stable condition.

INSKEEP: Hadn't she been wearing the protective suits and gloves and masks and everything else that people are doing?

STEIN: Right. You know, health care workers have received a lot of very detailed information and training about what they can do to protect themselves and the protective gear they should use and how to use it. And she supposedly did everything she was supposed to do. She wore a protective gown, a mask, gloves, a protective face shield. But she still got infected.

Now, Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says she must have made what he called a breach in protocol. She slipped up somehow, but how she slipped up is a mystery at this point.

INSKEEP: Now, what have health officials been doing since she was diagnosed?

STEIN: Well, the CDC and local health experts immediately interrogated the woman to try to figure out who she might've had contact with in the period time after she developed symptoms. At the moment, they think there was only one person, and they're watching that person very closely for any symptoms to make sure that that person isn't infected and doesn't spread to somebody else. They also rushed to her apartment to decontaminate it, including the entrance and all the common areas and alerted all of her neighbors, including leaving recorded messages on their phone, like this one. Let's listen to it a little bit.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This individual is in the hospital and is isolated. Precautions are already in place to clean all known potential areas of contact to ensure public health.

STEIN: They even decontaminated the car she rode in to the hospital and are keeping a close eye on her dog.

INSKEEP: OK, and they spread word of all this to reassure people that they're doing everything that they can. But how do they make sure this doesn't happen again when they're not sure how it happened in the first place?

STEIN: Right. So they're trying to identify any other health care workers who helped care for Duncan who might have been at risk as well and keep a closer watch on them. And the CDC is sending more help to Dallas to try to keep the situation under control. And they're providing more - even more detailed instructions and this training for health care workers on how to protect themselves.

Specifically, they want to make sure workers know how to take off their protective gear after treating patients. They think that could be the point at which people get infected. They're tired. They might take it off wrong, and they might expose themselves inadvertently that way.

INSKEEP: And what happens the next time someone is diagnosed with Ebola here in the United States?

STEIN: Yes, so now the CDC is recommending that from now on, whenever a hospital gets an Ebola patient, they name what they're calling sort of a - Ebola czar whose full-time job will be nothing else but to keep an eye on things and make sure that people are doing things right. And there's one more thing. Right now, Ebola patients are being treated at any hospital. The CDC is considering only treating them at four very specialized hospitals.

INSKEEP: Rob, thanks very much.

STEIN: Sure. Nice to be here.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Rob Stein. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.