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CDC heads to Ohio to help with Ebola contact-tracing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is dispatching a liaison to Ohio to work with state and local health officials after it was revealed today a second Dallas nurse who became infected with the Ebola virus was visiting family in Akron before she reported developing symptoms of infection.

Gov. John Kasich spoke today with CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Director Sylvia Burwell to seek assistance, said Rob Nichols, the governor’s spokesman.

The agency also is sending at least one investigator to help with “contact tracing” — the process of determining where and with whom the nurse visited to identify any health concerns, he said.

Frieden said in a conference call this afternoon the woman “should not have traveled on a commercial airplane.”

The Associated Press has identifed the nurse as Amber Joy Vinson, 29, and said Kent State University confirmed her identity. Medical records provided to The Associated Press by Thomas Eric Duncan’s family show Amber Joy Vinson was actively engaged in caring for Duncan in the days before his death. The records show she inserted catheters, drew blood, and dealt with Duncan’s body fluids.

The director of the Cleveland Department of Public Health said the woman was visiting family in the Akron area to prepare for her wedding.

Late this afternoon, the president of the Ohio State Medical Association, Dr. Mary J. Wall, said doctors in small private practices need to exercise extra caution.

“The Ohio Department of Health has asked private practice physicians to make a diagnosis by phone, when possible,” she said. “If in person, the diagnosis should occur without drawing blood or securing any other body fluids from the patient. If the Ebola virus is suspected, the physician is asked to contact the local hospital and make arrangements to have the patient quarantined and transported to a proper health facility.”

The nurse was in Akron from last Wednesdayuntil Monday, said Dr. Mary DiOrio, state epidemiologist with the Ohio Department of Health.

“As of right now we do not have a case of Ebola in Ohio but we are going to be working to identify any close contact with the individual who had traveled in our state,” DiOrio said.

The woman had a temperature of 99.5 when she flew from Cleveland to Dallas, Frieden said. She did not report that temperature to authorities and showed no symptoms. Still, DiOrio said she is at low risk to others.

The nurse took Frontier Airlines Flight 1143 from Cleveland to Dallas-Fort Worth on Monday, one day before she reported having symptoms. The CDC is urging all 132 passengers from the flight to call a toll-free hotline 1-800-CDC-INFO.

Vinson had flown to Cleveland before the first health-care worker became ill. But Frieden said she “should not have been allowed to travel on a plane or any other public transportation by virtue of the fact she was in an exposed group.”

He declined to say what she did for the hospital, but said the second patient, like the first, had “substantial” contact with Thomas Eric Duncan when he was vomiting and had diarrhea. Duncan was diagnosed with Ebola after coming to the U.S. from Liberia. Duncan died Oct. 8.

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Frieden said the risk of the nurse making those around her ill was “extremely low.”

“She was not vomiting, she was not bleeding,” he said.

He said he was “planning for the possibility of additional cases in the coming days” and said the new case was “very concerning.”

“Ebola is hard to fight, but we know how to fight it and we know how to beat it,” Frieden said.

Diorio said she did not have additional information about the woman’s movements in Ohio or how many people she might have come in contact with during her stay.

The Ohio Department of Health is working with the CDC and Summit County Public Health to investigate.

Summit County Public Health is interviewing the woman’s family members and plans to track down others she might have come in contact with while she was in Akron, said Bob Hasenyager, director of environmental health.

Her mother and stepfather have voluntarily quarantined themselves, he said. For most others who came into contact with the woman, the department likely will recommend self-monitoring of their body temperatures.

The woman, a 2008 Kent State University graduate, is related to three university employees, and the university notified its campus about that relationship today.

“It’s important to note that the patient was not on the Kent State campus,” Kent State President Beverly Warren said in a statement. “She stayed with her family at their home in Summit County and did not step foot on our campus.”

However, the trio did come in contact with Vinson and are voluntarily staying away from the campus for 21 days, university officials said in a press conference this afternoon.

Symptoms of the Ebola virus include fever, vomiting and diarrhea, Diorio said. Those infected can begin showing symptoms between 2 and 21 days after exposure.

Kasich issued a statement saying he has asked health officials to “aggressively respond.”

“Ohio has a sophisticated state and local public health network that has been preparing for this possibility for several months and those plans are now being activated,” Kasich said. “The Department of Health’s epidemiologists are on-site in Summit County to support local efforts and are in ongoing communication with the CDC to make sure we have the most up-to-date information.

He went on to say that they will provide the public information as soon as they can and will give health officials the proper resources to respond.

Both of Ohio’s U.S. senators called for quick action by the federal government to protect Ohioans.

In a letter to Burwell and Frieden, Sherrod Brown asked for a multi-pronged response, including: Identifying and locating all persons the individual had contact with while in northeast Ohio to track, monitor, and — if necessary — isolate anyone who shows any sign of symptoms; partnering with the Ohio Hospital Association and Ohio Department of Health to ensure that all Ohio hospitals and health care facilities, particularly those in northeast Ohio, are aware of the most up-to-date protocol for handling Ebola symptoms and have immediate access to state of the art protective equipment in the unlikely event that Ohioans show symptoms of the disease; and keeping a team of infection experts ready to go to Ohio to help should a case occur.

Sen. Rob Portman took the opportunity to take a shot at the Obama administration.

“The latest troubling news regarding the Ebola crisis demonstrates why our government must be more proactive in the fight to prevent the spread of Ebola,” Portman stated. “I have been calling on the president to take such proactive measures for weeks and it’s time for the administration to act.”

Noting that he had spoken with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Portman added, “In situations like this, it is important to remain calm while also staying vigilant and aware of potential symptoms.”

A pair of Ohio House Democrats is calling for majority Republicans to hold joint hearings on state protocol for managing Ebola infections.

“While it is important not to raise unnecessary alarm, we are troubled by the tone of this week’s conference call by state health officials in which they seemed more focused on downplaying the possibility of an Ebola outbreak in Ohio than on communicating protocols for preventing the spread of the disease in our state,” Reps. Nickie Antonio of Cleveland and Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown wrote to House and Senate GOP leaders. There was no immediate response.

Ohio Hospital Association President and CEO Mike Abrams expressed confidence with the state’s health-care system to handle any problems.

“We have an established infrastructure for infection prevention and emergency preparedness that is assessed constantly,” he said. “That infrastructure will be adapted so proper protocols and procedures are followed by health care workers to ensure hospitals are equipped to manage this disease.”

Also, U.S. President Barack Obama abruptly postponed a political trip he was to make today to stay at the White House to convene a high-level meeting about the Ebola outbreak.

The White House said Obama’s trip to New Jersey and Connecticut has been postponed. He had planned to attend a Democratic fundraiser in Union, New Jersey, and headline a rally for the re-election of Democratic Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

 

Dispatch Assistant Public Affairs Editor Michelle Everhart, reporter Jim Siegel, the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.