Health care workers in the Dallas hospital that treated a patient who died from Ebola and then treated two nurses who contracted the disease never received training on how to treat Ebola patients and avoid spreading the disease, a top hospital official said at a Congressional hearing today.
Dr. Daniel Varga said that, even though guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were sent to the emergency department at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in late July, there was no follow-up training ordered for the staff. Less than two months later, the hospital staff sent a man with Ebola home with a fever even though he was likely contagious at the time.
Varga is one of the panel of top American health officials who testified in Congress today at a hearing on the federal government's response to Ebola cases in the United States.
"People are scared," said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "People's lives are at stake, and the response so far has been unacceptable."
During the hearing CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said that one of the infected nurses did not violate any rules by boarding a commercial airliner the day before she was diagnosed with Ebola.
Frieden said that while nurse Amber Vinson, 29, was in contact with Thomas Duncan, a Liberian man who died of Ebola, she had worn personal protective equipment and she did not need to have her movement restricted.
Frieden said that Vinson did contact the CDC before flying back to Dallas.
“I have not seen the transcript of the conversation,” Frieden said. “My understanding is that she reported no symptoms to us.”
Representatives from the House Energy and Commerce Committee questioned the panel about a host of issues including proper personal protective equipment, the possibility that dogs can transmit Ebola, parental concerns about sending children to public schools, and the prospect of a travel ban from west Africa.
Frieden said the CDC has "discussed the travel issue" with the White House, but would not confirm whether or not a ban has been ruled out. The CDC and the Obama administration have repeatedly said that banning flights would not stop the spread of the disease in Africa and would only make it harder for authorities to track potentially infected individuals because they would find different ways into the country without proper screening.
He said there are "approximately" 100 to 150 travelers who arrive in America on a daily basis who started their journeys in the Ebola "hot zones."
"There will not be a large outbreak here barring a mutation," Frieden said.
"We're absolutely looking for other mutations or changes," he said.
Without placing blame on the Dallas hospital, National Institutes of Health allergy and infectious diseases director Anthony Fauci confirmed that both nurses who contracted the disease while treating Ebola patient Thomas Duncan have since been moved out of the Dallas hospital where they worked and were being treated. Vinson was moved to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta Wednesday and Nina Pham was taken to the NIH facility in Maryland today.
Varga said that the NIH facility only has one other bed for a potential patient in their "state-of-the-art" isolation unit.
"Her condition is stable and she seems to be doing reasonably well," Fauci said of Pham.
President Obama canceled travel plans to stay at the White House and oversee government's response to the Ebola problem.