The second of two American nurses who became infected with Ebola while treating a Liberian man who died of the disease in Texas three weeks ago will be released from the hospital today having been declared free of the virus, officials said.
The infections of the nurses at a Dallas hospital underscored the lack of preparedness in the United States public health system to safely deal with Ebola, which has killed about 5,000 people in three impoverished West African countries and raised fears of a wider outbreak.
The nurse, Amber Vinson, had been treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta since October 15th. The other nurse who worked at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, Nina Pham, was declared virus-free last Friday, left the Maryland hospital where she had been treated and met with president Barack Obama.
Ms Vinson's case caused wider alarm when it was revealed that she had flown from Texas to Ohio and back on commercial planes. Ohio state health officials are still monitoring 163 people in case they show symptoms of Ebola, a hemorrhagic fever that can only be transmitted through the bodily fluids of an infected person and is not airborne.
Ms Vinson and Ms Pham treated Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, who had travelled to Texas. He was the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. Ms Vinson, declared virus-free last Friday, would make a statement at a news conference today, the Atlanta hospital said.
The lone patient now being treated for Ebola in the United States is a New York doctor, Craig Spencer, who was diagnosed last Thursday. He had worked with Doctors Without Borders treating Ebola patients in Guinea. Also in New York, health officials said a 5-year-old boy from Guinea who was tested for Ebola turned out to have a fever because of respiratory infection.
States including New York and New Jersey have imposed their own safeguards including mandatory quarantines for doctors and nurses returning from the three countries at the center of the epidemic, saying federal policies do not adequately protect the public. Some lawmakers, particularly Republicans, have criticised the response by Obama's administration as inept.
Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie, in an interview on NBC's Today show, defended his state's Ebola policy today, saying it is not "draconian".
“We’re trying to be careful here. This is common sense,” Mr Christie said. “Our policy hasn’t changed and our policy will not change.”
The first person affected by New Jersey's quarantine, a nurse who treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, was released yesterday after being placed in isolation against her will on Friday in a tent at a Newark hospital. Kaci Hickox, who tested negative for Ebola and sharply criticised Mr Christie while in quarantine, was driven to her home state of Maine yesterday.
Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US government's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said today that new guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) set up restrictions for each person that correlate to the degree of exposure to Ebola.
The new CDC guidelines called for isolation of people at the highest risk for Ebola infection, but would allow most medical workers returning from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to monitor themselves daily and have a health official check in on them, without being isolated.