Texas Hospital Worker Exposed to Ebola Quarantined on Cruise Ship

A hospital employee may have been in contact with clinical specimens from a deceased Ebola patient.

An employee of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital who may have been in contact with clinical specimens collected from a deceased Ebola patient has been quarantined aboard a cruise ship in Belize, according to the US State Department.

The health care worker departed from Galveston, Texas, on a commercial cruise ship on October 12, 2014. Although the employee did not have direct contact with deceased Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, the worker may have had contact with clinical specimens that were collected from the patient.

The employee had left the country prior to being notified of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated requirements for active monitoring, as protocol at the time only required self-monitoring.

“The cruise line has actively supported CDC’s efforts to speak with the individual, whom the cruise ship’s medical doctor has monitored and confirmed was in good health,” the State Department said in a statement. “Following this examination, the hospital employee and traveling partner have voluntarily remained isolated in a cabin. We are working with the cruise line to safely bring them back to the United States out of an abundance of caution.”

Since October 6, 2014, the employee has been self-monitoring, including taking daily temperature checks, and has yet to exhibit any symptoms of the illness. The State Department noted that it has been 19 days since the passenger may have processed Duncan’s fluid samples.

The ship remains in Belize waters but, out of caution, the Government of Belize chose not to facilitate a request for assistance from the United States to evacuate the passenger through the country’s Phillip Goldson International Airport.

The CDC is also widening its investigation of those who may have potentially had contact with a nurse who traveled from Texas to Ohio and back again via commercial airline in the days prior to testing positive for the Ebola virus.

Amber Vinson, 29, traveled on Frontier Airlines flight 1142 from Dallas/Fort Worth to Cleveland on October 10, 2014, and on Frontier Airlines flight 1143 from Cleveland to Dallas/Fort Worth on October 13, 2014. Officials are seeking to interview passengers about the flight and arrange follow-up care as needed. Anyone deemed to face potential risk for Ebola will be actively monitored.

CDC officials acknowledged a mistake was made and that Vinson should not have been permitted to fly.

Vinson, who is reported to be in stable condition, was transferred to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for additional treatment. Earlier this week, 26-year-old nurse Nina Pham tested positive for the virus after caring for Duncan.

Pham was transferred yesterday to a National Institutes of Health facility in Maryland for treatment. Her condition is reportedly improving, according to the CDC.

In an effort to ramp up the US government’s response to Ebola, the White House today appointed Ron Klain as the so-called Ebola czar to coordinate containment of the outbreak. Klain served as chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden from 2008 to 2011.

"The dangers of a serious outbreak are extraordinarily low in the United States,” President Barack Obama said at a news conference earlier this week. “But, we are taking this very seriously at the highest levels of government."