A health-care worker who cared for the Ebola patient who died last week in Dallas has preliminarily tested positive for the disease, Texas health officials said early Sunday, in what is likely to have been the first known transmission in the U.S.
The worker at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas reported a low-grade fever Friday night and was isolated, the health department said. A blood sample tested positive at the state public-health laboratory in Austin late Saturday, and a confirmatory test is being conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said that “unfortunately, we are confident” that the test will be confirmed positive by the CDC.
The health-care worker is believed to be a nurse, according to a person familiar with the investigation. The person was considered to be at low risk for contracting the disease, but was one of 18 hospital staff members who were told to check their temperatures twice daily. It was during one such check that the health-care worker discovered a fever, reported it to the hospital, and was isolated within 90 minutes of the fever check, officials said.
If confirmed, the case would become the first known transmission of Ebola in the U.S. and the second person to be diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. It underscores the risks to health-care workers who care for Ebola patients and the need for hospitals to be meticulous about infection-control procedures. A nurse’s aide in Spain was also infected after caring for a priest who died of the disease.
“We knew a second case could be a reality, and we’ve been preparing for this possibility,” David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said in a statement. “We are broadening our team in Dallas and working with extreme diligence to prevent further spread.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what type of contact the health-care worker had with Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola patient who died last Wednesday from the disease. But some hospital workers were exposed to him before it was known that he had Ebola. Mr. Duncan visited the hospital’s emergency room on Sept. 25 complaining of symptoms, but wasn’t diagnosed with the disease and was sent home with a prescription for antibiotics instead. He returned to the hospital on Sept. 28 in an ambulance and was admitted.
The health department said health officials have interviewed the health-care worker to identify contacts or potential exposures. People who had contact with the health-care worker after the symptoms emerged will be monitored based on the nature of their interactions and the potential they were exposed to the virus.
Federal and state health officials have been tracking 48 people identified as having close or possible contact with Mr. Duncan. The number included at least seven health-care workers who had close contact with him. It wasn’t immediately clear if the ill health-care worker was one of those seven.
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