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Texas health worker tests positive for Ebola

Dallas hospital says worker wore gear while caring for Ebola patient; first person to contract virus in the US

A Dallas health care worker who caught Ebola while treating a patient who died of the disease has received a plasma transfusion donated by a doctor who beat the virus.

Jeremy Blume, a spokesman for the nonprofit medical mission group Samaritan's Purse, confirmed that the plasma donation came from Kent Brantly, the first American to return to the U.S. from Liberia to be treated for Ebola. Brantly received an experimental treatment and fought off the virus, and has donated blood for transfusions for three others, including the health care worker.

Health officials are intensifying the monitoring of hospital workers after a Texas heath care worker tested positive for the Ebola virus on Sunday — the first known instance of the disease being contracted or transmitted in the United States.

Daniel Varga — chief clinical officer of Texas Health Resources, which operates Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan was treated before he died — said during a news conference Sunday that the health care worker wore a gown, gloves, mask and shield while providing care to Duncan. Varga did not identify the worker and said her family has "requested total privacy."

Varga says the worker reported a fever Friday night as part of a self-monitoring regimen required by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He said that she is in isolation at the hospital and is being monitored and that a person who had been in contact with her is also in isolation but did not elaborate on where that person is being monitored. The hospital said its emergency department is diverting ambulances to other hospitals but is still accepting walk-in patients.

Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., died Wednesday in Dallas.

The missteps with the first patient and now the infection of a caregiver raised questions about assurances given by U.S. health officials that any U.S. hospital should be able to treat an Ebola patient and that the disease would be contained.

Among the things the CDC will investigate is how workers who treated Duncan took off protective gear, because removing it incorrectly can lead to contamination. Investigators will also look at dialysis and intubation — the insertion of a breathing tube in a patient's airway. Both procedures have the potential to spread the virus.

At a briefing in Atlanta, CDC director Tom Frieden said that at some point during Duncan's treatment, "there was a breach in protocol and that breach in protocol resulted in this infection." He added that officials were "deeply concerned" by the infection of the worker. President Barack Obama asked the CDC to move as quickly as possible in investigating the incident, the White House said.

The infected worker has not been able to point to how the breach might have occurred. Dallas police stood guard outside her apartment complex and told people not to go inside. Officers also knocked on doors, made automated phone calls and passed out fliers to notify people within a four-block radius about the situation, although Dallas authorities assured residents the risk was confined to those who have had close contact with the two Ebola patients.

"We knew a second case could be a reality, and we've been preparing for this possibility," Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said in a statement Sunday. "We are broadening our team in Dallas and working with extreme diligence to prevent further spread."

Health officials have interviewed the worker and are identifying any contacts or potential exposures. They said people who had contact with her after symptoms emerged will be monitored, depending on the nature of their interaction and the potential for exposure to the virus.

The common areas of the worker's apartment complex have been disinfected and sealed, as has her vehicle parked at the hospital. Her apartment unit was to be decontaminated on Sunday.

The case heightens concern for health workers' safety, and nurses at many hospitals "are alarmed at the inadequate preparation they see," says a statement from Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the union National Nurses United.

Health care workers treating Ebola patients are among the most vulnerable, even if wearing protective gear. A Spanish nurse assistant recently became the first health care worker infected outside West Africa in this outbreak. She helped care for two priests who were taken to a Madrid hospital and later died. More than 370 health care workers in West Africa have fallen ill or died since the epidemic began earlier this year.

Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas County's top administrative official, said the unidentified health care worker is a "heroic" person who "was proud to provide care to Mr. Duncan." He said her family has requested privacy because they are "going through a great ordeal."

More than 4,000 people have died so far in the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, according to World Health Organization figures published Friday. Almost all those deaths have been in the three worst-affected countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

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, scrape or mucous membrane such as the nasal passage, mouth or eyes.

Al Jazeera and news services

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