Better Ebola Response May Have Prevented Nurse's Case, CDC Head Says

CDC will put "Ebola response teams" anywhere within hours.

ByABC News
October 14, 2014, 4:48 PM

— -- The nation's top health official said today he regrets not sending a larger team of experts to Texas when the first case of Ebola was diagnosed, a move he said may have prevented a Dallas nurse from getting infected.

President Obama said today that his administration is “surging resources into Dallas” to examine how nurse Nina Pham contracted Ebola while helping to care for Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, and ensure “all lessons learned” will be applied across the country.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that from now on a "CDC Ebola response team" will be ready to reach a hospital "within hours" of a reported case of Ebola.

"I wish we had put a team like this on the ground the day the first patient was diagnosed. That might have prevented infection," Frieden said at a news conference today. "We will do that from today onward with any case in the U.S."

The CDC could have sent a "more robust management team and been more hands on from day one," Frieden said. "Looking back, we say we should have put an even larger team on the ground immediately."

Frieden was referring to the case of Duncan, a Liberian man who became the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. He was treated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, but succumbed to the virus.

Subsequently, Pham, a nurse who helped take care of Duncan, has been diagnosed with Ebola. She is being treated at the same hospital where she worked.

Frieden said 76 health care workers who may have had contact with Duncan are now being monitored.

Frieden said he was encouraged that the 48 people that Duncan had contact with before he was diagnosed with Ebola have passed the 14 day mark without any signs of the virus. The virus has an incubation period that can last up to 21 days, experts say.

"They've now passed through the highest risk period [making it] decreasingly likely that they will develop symptoms," Frieden said.

Worrying about the possibility of contracting Ebola is "very anxiety provoking," he said, noting that after he visited an Ebola facility in West Africa, "Every time I had the slightest sore throat or headache I was concerned."

Medical investigators still don't know exactly how Pham contracted the virus while wearing protective gear and following CDC protocols during her time with Duncan. Frieden said the nurse has "been terrific in assisting" investigators tracking the cause of her infection.

In his remarks, the president also warned that the global response to the Ebola epidemic remains alarmingly insufficient.

“The world as a whole is not doing enough…Unless we contain this at the source, the transmission of this disease.. threatens hundreds of thousands of lives and destabilization of nations,” Obama said.

ABC News' Devin Dwyer contributed to this report