Spanish health authorities reacted forcefully today after a nurse's aide was found to have contracted Ebola, putting her in an isolation unit, quarantining her husband and two other people, and getting a court order to euthanize her dog.
The case marked the first time the disease has been contracted outside of west Africa and has alarmed health workers throughout Europe.
The European Union has demanded an explanation from Spain as to how the health worker could have become infected. “Tomorrow morning, we will have an audio conference call of EU's Health Security Committee," said Frederic Vincent, a spokesman for European Health Commission. “We will all listen very carefully to what the Spanish officials have to tell us on why was the hospital not ready for Ebola patients.”
The response by Madrid raised the specter that pets could spread the disease. The city of Madrid got a court order to euthanize and incinerate the woman's dog over her and her husband's objections, according to the Associated Press. The dog is a mixed breed pooch named Excalibur.
The government said available scientific knowledge suggests a risk that the dog could transmit the virus to humans.
Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a news conference today, "We have not identified this as means of transmission," but declined to comment on the actions by Madrid officials.
Texas health commissioner David Lakey, who has said they are monitoring about 50 people who had contact with the Ebola patient in Dallas, said, "We are not monitoring any animals at this time."
The Spanish patient, who has not been publicly identified, worked as the equivalent of a nurse's aide at Madrid’s Carlos III hospital. She was part of a team that treated two Ebola patients who were repatriated from West Africa after contracting the disease.
The medical team treated a missionary Miguel Pajares, 75, who was repatriated home from Liberia in August and died five days later. The same team took care of Mario Garcia Viejo, 69, a Spanish missionary who got infected in Sierra Leone and was flown to Madrid for treatment four days before he died on Sept. 25.
The woman, 44, had contact with Viejo twice. Once when he was still alive and she had to change his diapers, and a second time after he died and she had to take out his sheets, clothing and bodily wastes, public health official said.
She went on holiday after Viejo's death, although officials insist she never left Madrid.
Officials said the woman wasn't feeling well for a week before she was admitted to the isolation unit. El Mundo daily reported that it was the nurse who asked repeatedly to be tested for Ebola, before it was done on Monday.
Since her disease was diagnosed, her husband, who has no sign of disease, and two more people including a colleague who treated Viejo are being monitored in the hospital in a bid to try to stop the spread of the deadly virus.
In addition, health authorities said they are monitoring more than 50 possible contacts of the nurse's aide.
The team has a strict safety protocol in place, which includes double impregnated gown, gloves, masks and protective eye glasses, according to health officials.
“We are investigating how she got contaminated and if protocols were respected,” said Rosa Serrano, an official with Spanish health ministry.
Staff at the hospital told El Pais daily that the protective gowns they were using did not meet World Health Organization criteria, which require them to be impermeable and have a breathing equipment. Staff also complained about low quality latex gloves.
Spain was the first European country to repatriate home infected patients for treatment. Some health professionals said that Spanish hospitals were not well equipped to handle Ebola patients. “For instance in the U.S. there are 10 hospitals with level 4 isolation and here only Carlos III with level 2 and level 3,” says Pedro Martinez of AMYTS, the union representing doctors.
Despite the situation in Spain, European Health Commission thinks that a European Ebola epidemic "is very unlikely, and that in some way it could be a lesson for other member states," Vincent said.