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2nd Texas health worker tests positive for Ebola

Last Updated Oct 15, 2014 12:27 PM EDT

A second worker at the Texas hospital where a Liberian man died of Ebola has tested positive for the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said early Wednesday morning.

The agency said the positive result was returned from a preliminary test, and that "confirmation testing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's laboratory is being done."

The worker was in isolation at a Dallas hospital within 90 minutes of her finding she had an elevated temperature, officials said. They also said she lives alone with no pets.

After revealing her diagnosis, the CDC also announced the health care worker had taken a flight from Cleveland to Dallas the day before presenting symptoms. Officials are trying to track down all 132 passengers aboard.

In response to the latest Ebola case, the White House announced Tuesday that Obama is calling off a planned trip to New Jersey and Connecticut and instead will convene Cabinet officials coordinating the government's Ebola response.

Crews were at the health care worker's apartment early Wednesday morning, located in north Dallas, reports CBS Dallas. They began decontaminating the complex's common areas and the space outside of the patient's home, as well as distributing flyers to residents. The patient's vehicle and apartment unit will be decontaminated starting early Wednesday afternoon.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said at a news conference Wednesday that the health care provider at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital had been monitoring herself for symptoms of Ebola.

The Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed in a separate statement that the health worker did provide care to Thomas Eric Duncan, whom officials refer to as "the index patient" and is the Liberian national who died at Presbyterian on Oct. 8. Duncan was the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil, although he is believed to have contracted the disease while still in Liberia.

It was not immediately clear what contact the new case had with Duncan.

Officials have said they also don't know how the first health worker, a nurse, became infected. But the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said "an additional health care worker testing positive for Ebola is a serious concern."

"What happened there (in Dallas), regardless of the reason, is not acceptable. It shouldn't have happened," Anthony Fauci, director of the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of NIH, said on MSNBC Wednesday.

The state health agency said the new patient had been interviewed, "to quickly identify any contacts or potential exposures, and those people will be monitored. The type of monitoring depends on the nature of their interactions and the potential they were exposed to the virus."

"We want to remind Dallas County residents not to panic and overreact," said county health director Zach Thompson. "We just want Dallas County residents to stay calm."

Nurse Nina Pham, the first person to contract Ebola on U.S. soil, also got the disease while caring for Duncan. She repeatedly visited his room from the day he was admitted to the intensive care unit until the day before he died, medical records show.

Pham and other health care workers wore protective gear, including gowns, gloves, masks and face shields -- and sometimes full-body suits -- when caring for Duncan, but confirmation of the new case came a day after a national nurses union decried an absence of protocols at the Texas hospital.

When Pham's mother learned she was caring for Duncan, she tried to reassure her that she would be safe.

Pham told her: "Mom, no. Don't worry about me," family friend Christina Tran told The Associated Press.

Duncan's medical records make numerous mentions of protective gear worn by hospital staff, and Pham herself notes wearing the gear in visits to Duncan's room. But there is no indication in the records of her first encounter with Duncan, on Sept. 29, that Pham donned any protective gear.

Leaders of the National Nurses Union read a statement Tuesday which they said represented concerns from a number of nurses that work at Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas. The union officials declined to identify the Dallas nurses or say how many were participating in the statement.

But they were vociferous in citing a lack of protocols on the day Duncan was admitted with extreme symptoms of Ebola.

Among the flaws cited by the group included:

  • insufficient garb worn by the emergency personnel
  • the fact that Duncan was left "for hours" in a non-quarantined zone
  • that his lab samples were sent in the same way that normal specimens are sent
  • hospital official allowed nurses involved with Duncan to take care of other patients
  • other ways in which the hospital did not immediately react to the situation.

"Were protocols breached?" said union spokeswoman Rose Ann DeMoro, "There were no protocols."

"These nurses are not well protected. They're not prepared to handle Ebola or any other pandemic," said DeMoro. "We are deeply alarmed."

DeMoro said the nurses who had come forward were afraid to reveal their identities "because of a culture of threat in the hospitals."

Tuesday night, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital issued a statement in response to the nurses' charges, saying, "patient and employee safety is our greatest priority and we take compliance very seriously."

The hospital insisted that "numerous measures" were in place "to provide a safe working environment, including mandatory annual training and a 24-7 hotline and other mechanisms that allow for anonymous reporting."

But also on Tuesday, the nation's top disease-fighting agency acknowledged that federal health experts failed to do all they should have done to prevent Ebola from spreading in Dallas when and after Duncan was admitted.

CDC Director Tom Frieden outlined a series of steps designed to stop the spread of the disease in the U.S., including increased training for health care workers and changes at Texas Health Presbyterian to minimize the risk of more infections. He also said the CDC was forming rapid response teams to intervene wherever an Ebola diagnosis presents itself in the U.S. "within hours."

A total of 76 people at the hospital might have had exposure to Duncan, and all of them were being monitored for fever and other symptoms daily, Frieden said. It wasn't immediately confirmed that the new case was one of the 76 people being monitored.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell told "CBS This Morning" on Wednesday there haven't been any alterations of the virus that would raise concern about protocols.

With 30 years of treatment and containment ofthe Ebola virus behind them, Burwell said they knew to implement additional oversight to ensure those protocols were implemented this time.

"There will be 24/7 site managers who will oversee the taking on and taking off of equipment, as well as the fact that we've added additional CDC staff on site," she said on "CBS This Morning."

Another possibility for spreading the disease was the "the interventions that were done to try desperately to keep the index patient alive, (including) dialysis and intubation. These are two procedures which can result in the spread of infectious material," CDC head Frieden said.

Starting Sunday, the CDC began re-evaluating the protocols for using protective gear and limiting the number of Ebola patients a facility can treat, reports CBS News correspondent Vicente Arenas.