DALLAS — A female hospital worker who provided care for the Ebola patient in Dallas who later died has now tested positive for the virus herself, health officials said Sunday in a statement.
If that preliminary diagnosis is confirmed, it would be the first known case of the disease being contracted or transmitted in the U.S.
A statement posted on the Texas Department of State Health Service's website said "confirmatory testing will be conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta." Those results were expected later on Sunday.
"While this was obviously bad news, it is not news that should bring about panic," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said during a somber Sunday morning news conference at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. That is where Thomas Eric Duncan died last Wednesday, and where the unidentified hospital employee had helped care for him.
"That health care worker is a heroic person," Jenkins added. "Let's remember that as we do our work that this is a real person who is going through a great ordeal, and so is that person's family."
All emergency cases are being diverted from Presbyterian's emergency room "because of limitations in staffed capacity," the hospital said.
An apartment building where the new Ebola victim lived, near the intersection of Marquita Avenue and Greenville Avenue in Dallas, was being decontaminated, Mayor Mike Rawlings said.
"We have knocked on every door on that block and talked to every single person who came to the door, explained what happened so they would not be afraid of the hazmat units," the mayor said. Rawlings later personally visited with residents on that block.
A vehicle used by the new suspected Ebola patient was also quarantined by health officials.
Dallas County Health and Human Services director Zachary Thompson appeared on News 8 Daybreak Sunday to discuss the latest developments. "Let's not be shocked if we have another case," he said.
Dr. Daniel Varga, of the Texas Health Resources, said during a news conference Sunday that the worker wore a gown, gloves, mask and shield when she provided care to Thomas Eric Duncan during his second visit to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. Varga did not identify the worker and says the family of the worker has "requested total privacy."
Varga says the health care worker reported a fever Friday night as part of a self-monitoring regimen required by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said another person also remains in isolation, and the hospital has stopped accepting new emergency room patients.
"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."
Health officials have interviewed the patient and are identifying any contacts or potential exposures. They said people who had contact with the health care worker after symptoms emerged will be monitored based on the nature of their interactions and the potential they were exposed to the virus.
Ebola spreads through close contact with a symptomatic person's bodily fluids, such as blood, sweat, vomit, feces, urine, saliva or semen. Those fluids must have an entry point, like a cut or scrape or someone touching the nose, mouth or eyes with contaminated hands, or being splashed. The World Health Organization says blood, feces and vomit are the most infectious fluids, while the virus is found in saliva mostly once patients are severely ill and the whole live virus has never been culled from sweat.
Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., died Wednesday in Dallas. Duncan, 42, grew up next to a leper colony in Liberia and fled years of war before later returning to his country to find it ravaged by the disease that ultimately took his life.
Duncan arrived in Dallas on September 20, realizing a long-held ambition to join relatives. He came to attend the high-school graduation of his son, who was born in a refugee camp in Ivory Coast and was brought to the U.S. as a toddler when the boy's mother successfully applied for resettlement.
The trip was the culmination of decades of effort, friends and family members said. But when Duncan arrived in Dallas, though he showed no symptoms, he had already been exposed to Ebola. His neighbors in Liberia believe Duncan become infected when he helped a pregnant neighbor who later died from it. It was unclear if he knew about her diagnosis before traveling.
Duncan had arrived at a friend's Dallas apartment on Sept. 20 — less than a week after helping his sick neighbor. For the nine days before he was taken to a hospital in an ambulance, Duncan shared the apartment with several people.
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