Spain’s Ebola quarantine numbers rise

A British Army medic takes part in an exercise. Picture: PA
A British Army medic takes part in an exercise. Picture: PA
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THREE more people are under quarantine for possible Ebola at a Madrid hospital after a Spanish nursing assistant became infected there.

More than 50 other people are being monitored as experts try to understand why Spain’s anti-infection practices failed.

Health authorities are investigating how the nursing assistant, part of a special team that cared for a Spanish priest who died of Ebola last month, became infected.

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She was the first case of Ebola being transmitted outside West Africa, where a months-long outbreak has killed at least 3,500 people and sparked social unrest.

Last night it emerged Madrid’s regional government has a court order to kill and incinerate the nursing assistant’s pet dog despite her and her husband’s objections.

Officials said available scientific data suggests a risk the mixed-breed dog could transmit the virus to humans.

The woman’s case has highlighted the dangers health care workers face while caring for Ebola patients – more than 370 health care workers in the hardest-hit countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have died.

Dr William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University in the US, said the case shows that health workers can be at risk not only in West Africa but in the sophisticated medical centres in Europe and the United States.

The virus that causes Ebola spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. Officials said the Spanish nursing assistant had changed a dressing for the priest and collected material from his room after he died.

Dead Ebola victims are highly infectious and in West Africa bodies are collected by workers in hazardous materials outfits.

News of the Ebola quarantines spooked investors because Spain is one of Europe’s biggest tourist destinations. Shares of Spanish airline and hotel chain companies slumped as investors feared the Ebola case might scare away travellers.

The nursing assistant, aged in her 40s, was not identified but union officials she had 14 years of experience and authorities said she had no children. Jose Ramon Arribas, the chief of the Carlos III hospital’s infectious disease department where she was under quarantine, said she was being treated with blood plasma from a cured Ebola victim. The hospital also had an experimental anti-viral drug called Favioiravir available, he said.

The nursing assistant’s husband has shown no signs of having the disease but was admitted to hospital as a precaution, said Dr Francisco Arnalich, head of internal medicine at the Carlos III hospital.

A nurse who also treated the priest who died on September 25 was put into quarantine after experiencing diarrhoea but she did not have a fever. A Spanish engineer who arrived home after travelling to Nigeria was also under quarantine but his first test was negative for Ebola.

Public health director Mercedes Vinuesa told parliament authorities were drawing up a list of people who may have had contact with the nursing assistant with Ebola.

They have been in touch with 22 people – including relatives and personnel at the hospital in the Madrid suburb of Alcorcon where the nursing assistant went yesterday with a fever.

They were also monitoring 30 other members of the health care team that treated Manuel Garcia Viejo, the priest who returned from Sierra Leone and died from Ebola.

The health ministry’s chief co-ordinator for emergencies, Fernando Simon, told Cadena SER radio the nursing assistant with Ebola was in stable condition and her life was not in immediate danger. Health officials said she had no symptoms besides fever.

Mr Simon described her husband, who is in hospital, as “OK and relatively calm”.

He rejected criticism that authorities were slow to react to the case, but about 20 health care workers at the hospital protested outside.

They called for the resignation of health minister Ana Mato amid claims by union officials that Spanish health workers have not received adequate anti-infection training or the most modern Ebola protection equipment.

Rafael Perez-Santamarina, the hospital’s director, said authorities did not know yet how the nursing assistant got infected despite the use of internationally recognised precautions against Ebola. “When we finish the investigation, we will be able to say,” he said.