Spain and U.S. Deal with Ebola

The first case of Ebola contracted outside of West Africa has the Spanish government scrambling to contain the deadly virus. In the U.S., the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the country has died.

Oct 8, 2014
Jef Akst

Transmission electron micrograph of the Ebola virusWIKIMEDIA, CDC, FREDERICK MURPHYThree people are in quarantine and more than 50 are being monitored following the first confirmed case of Ebola contracted outside of West Africa. Spanish media reports identified Teresa Romero Ramos as the female nurse who treated two Ebola patients at Carlos III Hospital in Madrid. One of her patients had contracted the disease in Liberia, the other in Sierra Leone. Both of those patients have since died; Ramos remains isolated in the hospital with no official report on her condition, though she told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo that she was feeling “a little better.”

Ramos is believed to have contracted Ebola while treating Manuel García Viejo, a missionary who had recently returned from Sierra Leone, in late September. Viejo died on September 26, and the following day, Ramos was scheduled to leave on vacation. But her husband told El Mundo that they had canceled their plans as a result of an accident he’d had at work and that Ramos was instead planning to go to her mother’s. On September 30, Ramos reported having a 100-degree fever to staff at Fundación Hospital de Alcorcón, and she was admitted at Carlos III Hospital on Monday (October 6). The delay in isolating the patient has brought the Spanish government’s handling of the situation under fire, with health-care workers claiming they haven’t received proper training on handling Ebola cases and some politicians calling for Health Minister Ana Mato to resign, The New York Times, CNN, and others reported.

Meanwhile, doctors work to treat Ramos, identify the source of her infection, and contain the spread of Ebola. Ramos originally told El Mundo that she had “no idea” how she became infected, but later told her doctor, German Ramirez, that she may have come in contact with the gloves of her protective suit while taking it off, CNN and The Washington Post reported. “What we’ve seen in the past among nurses in [West Africa] wearing [the personal protection suits] is very complicated,” Daniel Epstein, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, told the Post. “Putting them on and taking them off requires a certain series of steps in a certain order. It’s not that the suits fail, it's that people fail when they take it off.”

Ramos’s husband and at least two others are in quarantine, and a total of 30 people from Carlos III Hospital and 22 from the Alcorcón hospital, plus family members and others Ramos had contact with are all being monitored, according to Spanish authorities. A spokesman for Madrid’s regional health authorities told CNN that the couple’s apartment is being disinfected and, in a controversial containment effort, that their dog, Excalibur, will be put down.  An online petition to save the dog has amassed more than 380,000 signatures.

CNN quoted the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy urging people to “keep calm” In the face of the country’s first Ebola case. “I would like to ask you to allow the health workers to work,” he said. “The Spanish health system is one of the best in the world.” But in the latest risk assessment from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, published October 1, the agency stated that “if a symptomatic case of [Ebola] presents in an EU Member State, secondary transmission to caregivers in the family and in healthcare facilities cannot be ruled out,” and Health Minister Ana Mato reportedly told Parliament that protocols for handling Ebola are being revised.

In the U.S., Ebola is also making headlines. This morning (October 8), the first patient diagnosed with the viral disease in the country passed away. Thomas Eric Duncan, 42, was treated with the experimental Ebola drug brincidofovir at a Dallas hospital, but his family told NBC News that he was not responding well. Over the weekend, the hospital downgraded his condition from serious to critical. “It is with profound sadness and heartfelt disappointment that we must inform you of the death of Thomas Eric Duncan this morning at 7:51 a.m.,” Texas Health Resources spokesman Wendell Watson said in a statement.

Duncan was believed to have contracted Ebola last month in Liberia, where he riding with a dying neighbor to the hospital. He returned to the U.S. on September 20 and began showing symptoms less than a week later. Concern stirred after the patient was sent home from the hospital without having given his travel history to everyone who treated him. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been working to ensure that the virus is contained, and agency director Thomas Frieden called the handling of the case a “teachable moment.” Today, the CDC announced with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs & Border Protection that a new screening strategy will be implemented this week at the five US airports that receive the vast majority of passengers from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone (New York’s JFK, Washington-Dulles, Newark, Chicago-O’Hare, and Atlanta).

Frieden said in a statement: “We believe these new measures will further protect the health of Americans, understanding that nothing we can do will get us to absolute zero risk until we end the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.”