In Dallas, Many Lessons Learned From First Ebola Case

Oct 13, 2014
Originally published on October 13, 2014 4:58 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In Dallas today health officials are dealing with their second Ebola patient, a nurse who cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, who died last Wednesday. Member station KERA has confirmed that the nurse is 26-year-old Nina Pham. According to Dr. Thomas Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is not yet known how she became infected.

THOMAS FRIEDEN: We have not identified a specific problem that led to this infection. We have identified a series of things where we can make the care safer and easier for the health care workers who are providing it.

SIEGEL: As the investigation continues, Dallas residents are already noticing changes in the way officials are communicating with the public. From member station KERA in Dallas, Lauren Silverman reports.

LAUREN SILVERMAN, BYLINE: Today it's business as usual in this upper-middle-class neighborhood known as the M Streets, where nurse Nina Pham lives. Garbage trucks pick up trash cans below large live oak and pecan trees. People are walking their dogs and pushing strollers past brick houses decorated with Halloween spider webs.

Tommy Hicks says this latest Ebola news doesn't faze him.

TOMMY HICKS: Not scary at all, really. I mean, we're not in any way frightened by the disease. It's incredibly hard to get and I feel completely safe in our neighborhood.

SILVERMAN: That's partly because Dallas city and county officials responded very differently to the news of a second infection.

HICKS: I don't think they knew what they were dealing with the first time around. This particular incident - I can't imagine them doing it any better than they have.

SILVERMAN: Within an hour of finding out a neighbor had Ebola on Sunday morning, Hicks was on his front lawn with his wife and baby shaking hands with Dallas mayor, Mike Rawlings. The city had already knocked on doors across the neighborhood, leaving information packets about Ebola and making reverse 911 calls to houses within four blocks of the apartment.

(SOUNDBITE OF REVERSE 911 PHONE CALL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: This is an important message from the city of Dallas. Please be advised that a health care worker who lives in your area has tested positive for the Ebola virus.

SILVERMAN: Mary Jud got that call early yesterday morning. She and her husband live around the corner from the small 1930s brick apartment building where the nurse lives. Rather than be upset about the early morning call, Jud says she was grateful.

MARY JUD: It made me feel very comfortable and very safe that the city is taking care of its neighbors.

SILVERMAN: This neighborhood is just four miles south of the Vickery Meadow apartment complex where Thomas Eric Duncan first showed symptoms of Ebola after arriving from Liberia. It took city officials five days to clean Duncan's apartment. This time, hazmat crews arrived within hours. It also took days for the city to identify all of the nearly 50 people Duncan had contact with. In this latest case, Dallas mayor, Mike Rawlings, says city officials moved much more quickly.

MAYOR MIKE RAWLINGS: The entire process, from the patient's self-monitoring to the admission into isolation, took less than 90 minutes.

SILVERMAN: All along, city officials cautioned that a second Ebola case here was possible. The fact that it was a health care worker may be a surprise to some. What officials are trying to show is that they learned from the first case and are now counting on more timely information and precautions to keep residents calm.

For NPR News, I'm Lauren Silverman in Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.