Spanish Nurse Contracts Ebola outside Hard-Hit West Africa in Madrid, Spain

( [email protected] ) Oct 07, 2014 07:00 PM EDT
Spain Ebola Nurse
Health workers protesting outside La Paz University Hospital in Madrid on Tuesday, calling for Ana Mato, Spain's health minister, to resign after a Spanish nurse contracted Ebola. Andrea Comas/Reuters

Spanish health authorities have announced that a nurse in Spain who treated two Spanish priests who later died from Ebola has contracted the deadly virus herself. It is the first reported case of Ebola infection that has happened outside of west Africa.

The nurse, described as a "sanitary technician," became infected at a Madrid hospital while treating Manuel Garcia Viejo, a priest who initially contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone. According to Antonio Alemany, a regional government official from Madrid, she initially alerted health authorities about her slight fever on Sept. 30 and checked in to another Spanish hospital with a high fever on Sunday.

According to a Washington Post report, Mercedes Vinuesa Sebastian, Spain's public health director, the nurse only entered Viejo's room twice; she changed his diaper on the first visit and collected his belongings after his death on the second visit. The nurse wore personal protective equipment both times.

"We're drawing up a list of all the people she may have been in contact with, including with health professionals at the Alcorcón hospital where she is being treated," Alemany said.

Alemany noted that the patient, who is married but has no children, began showing symptoms while out on holiday. A Guardian article reports that once initial and secondary tests confirmed that she did have the virus, the hospital immediately activated Ebola protocol.

"We are working to verify the exact source of contact to see if all strict protocols were followed," Spanish Health Minister Ana Mato said during a news conference on Monday.

A USA Today report noted that the nurse's husband and a second nurse have been quarantined. While Alemany noted that other people who had contact with the nurse are being monitored, he did not mention where she went on vacation or who she came into contact with while on holiday.

The Guardian has reported that the same nurse also treated Spanish missionary Miguel Pajares, 75, back in August for Ebola. The decision to bring Pajares (who died five days later in Madrid from the virus) to Spain from Liberia for treatment has yielded concern from health professionals who said that Spanish hospitals lacked the necessary equipment to handle an Ebola outbreak.

Spanish health authorities contended that Spanish hospitals have always been following Ebola protocols as outlined and recommended by the World Health Organization. However, they are currently conducting an investigation on how Ebola managed to infect the nurse in the first place.

"We don't know yet what failed," Alemany said. "We're investigating the mechanism of infection."

The WHO estimates that more than 3,400 people have died in the latest Ebola outbreak, according to USA Today. Unreported cases, however, could drive the actual figure even higher.