Ebola Fears Heightened after Outbreak in Spain – Obama Assures Chances of US Outbreak Low

( [email protected] ) Oct 07, 2014 07:33 PM EDT
Spain Ebola Outbreak
Paramedics wearing protective suits move Miguel Pajares, a Spanish missionary infected with Ebola, on a special isolation stretcher, at Carlos III hospital, in Madrid, Spain. Photo: EPA

The government in Spain came under fire today amid reports that a female nurse's assistant, who was infected with the Ebola virus, may have had contact with up to 50 people. The woman, who has not been identified, is reported to be in stable condition.

An employee at Carlos III Hospital in Madrid, the nurse's assistant is said to have been one of 30 employees to have contact with a male missionary and male priest who both contracted the disease while in West Africa. That missionary died on September 30, and the woman was hospitalized nearly one week later.

Related: Spanish Nurse Contracts Ebola Outside Hard-Hit West Africa 

In regard to the protective suits worn by health workers, Yolanda Fuentes, a deputy director of the hospital, said on Monday that they "comply perfectly with the protocol and the required protective measures for this disease."

Spain is the first Western European country to report an Ebola case, and the European Union is demanding answers from Spanish health officials. The country was believed to have been well-equipped to handle Ebola cases, and Carlos III Hospital was carefully selected by the Spanish government to provide care for repatriated Ebola patients.

While West Africa is experiencing the biggest outbreak - nearing 3,000 fatalities - it is the case in Spain that is causing the most recent alarm. This is the first infection to take place outside of Africa, and comes not long after news of a Liberian man who began experiencing Ebola symptoms following his arrival in Dallas, Texas.

The cases in Spain and Texas have heightened awareness of a possible Ebola outbreak in this country, but many living in the states have not heard reports on the four treatment centers in the U.S. specifically designed to handle outbreaks like Ebola. The latest patient to arrive at one of these units is Ashoka Mukpo, a freelance journliast, who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia.

The Nebraska Medical Center, located in Omaha, is home to the Biocontainment Patient Care Unit. This portion of the center - separate from the main hospital and using its own ventilation system - was commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and opened 2005. After nearly a decade in operation, the unit boasts a team that has received specialized training, and routinely completes drills to prepare them for an outbreak situation.

While the U.S. is prepared for an outbreak, fears continue to rise, and President Obama weighed in on concerns. "As I've said from the start of this outbreak, I consider this a top national security priority. This is not just a matter of charity ... This is an issue about our safety," he said on Monday.

Though he called for the implementation of procedures to stop the spread of the disease he did not play into the fears of those concerned with widespread infection in the U.S.

"We're also going to be working on protocols to do additional passenger screening, both at the source and here in the United States," he said. "Here in the United States, at least, the chances of an outbreak -- of an epidemic here - are extraordinarily low."