Ebola has arrived in the United States, and it has spread. It’s a sad truth and a reminder that even a strong health care infrastructure and a prepared federal agency like the CDC can fail when facing an unprecedented outbreak of infectious, fatal disease.
Ebola has captivated the attention of Americans since it began spreading throughout West Africa this year, but having patients in the United States has given an increasingly personal connection to the outbreak of the disease. The Onion satirized the situation beautifully in a recent article, suggesting an Ebola vaccine wouldn’t emerge until more white Americans were affected by the virus.
Although the American public has largely followed the Ebola outbreak from a concerned yet safe distance, the recent diagnosis and death of Thomas Eric Duncan in a Dallas Hospital made the virus a much more believable threat. Duncan’s treatment was also tragically mishandled by the hospital, from which he was initially sent home with flu-like symptoms despite explaining he had arrived from Liberia and been in contact with an Ebola patient there.
The virus has now spread in Dallas, marking the first known Ebola transmission on American soil. According to the Daily Mail, Nina Pham, a 26-year-old nurse who was part of the team assigned to treat Duncan, tested positive for Ebola and is currently undergoing treatment in an isolation ward. The story of a young person catching Ebola after attempting to treat another individual sadly mirrors the fate of Duncan, who contracted the virus after helping his pregnant neighbor in Liberia.
Pham is relatively new to the nursing profession, as she obtained her license in August of 2010 and recently began working in critical care. She graduated from Texas Christian University in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Pham’s dog has also been quarantined but has thus far avoided euthanization, unlike the controversial case of the Spanish Ebola patient, who was also a nurse.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was initially unsympathetic to Pham’s case, effectively blaming the nurse for failing to follow suggested equipment protocol during one of Duncan’s procedures. CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden eventually clarified that Pham was not responsible for the “breach of protocol.” Instead, as Frieden suggested, it’s the system in place that’s to blame.
The CDC is attempting to correct the way it has been dealing with Ebola in the United States, with increased security measures like scans at JFK airport in New York. Federal health workers are also closely monitoring all those who may exhibit signs of the disease in the Dallas area. Duncan’s family members, with whom he maintained contact while he was exhibiting symptoms — which is when the virus can be transmitted — are also being closely watched.
“We have to rethink how we address Ebola control, because even a single infection is unacceptable,” said Frieden.
The United States now has had two patients suffer from Ebola under American health care, but hopefully the sad cases of Duncan and Pham will be where the virus’s spread ends here.