Oct. 20: What’s new with Ebola

It’s Monday, and a state-ordered 21-day Ebola quarantine has been lifted in Texas. Here are a look at the day’s other developments in Ebola:

CDC acknowledges old Ebola treatment rules were too lax, imposes new ones

The federal government on Monday tightened its infection control regulations for health care workers who care for Ebola patients.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will now require that medical personnel train, practice and show competency in the donning and removal of personal protective equipment before they’re allowed to treat Ebola patients.

The new rules also require that a trained supervisor monitor workers to make sure they’re safely putting on and removing the equipment and that no skin be exposed when protective gear is worn in the presence of Ebola patients.

Before visibly contaminated protective gear is removed, the CDC is now recommending that the garments, including gloves, be wiped with a disinfectant. CDC Director Tom Frieden said some facilities might require staff to undergo a disinfecting shower when they remove their protective equipment.

The new protocols come after two nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, 26-year-old Nina Pham and 29-year-old Amber Vinson, contracted Ebola after treating a Liberian man who died of the disease. Both nurses were wearing protective gear in accordance with previous CDC guidelines.

Cuba invites US to cooperate on Ebola

Cuban is willing to work with the United States in the fight against Ebola, President Raul Castro said at a summit of leftist Latin American nations Monday.

Castro said that the world must avoid politicization of the effort. He spoke at a summit of the ALBA alliance, which includes several Latin American and Caribbean nations. The region’s largest countries are not members of the group.

Cuba is sending nearly 400 medical workers to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the largest contribution by any single country.

“We believe that we must avoid any politicization of this grave problem that would distract us from the fundamental objective, which is helping confront this epidemic,” Castro said. “Cuba is willing to work shoulder to shoulder with all other countries, including the United States.”

The meeting closed with a series of resolutions by ALBA member nations to work closely to keep Ebola out of the region and support Cuban medical assistance to Africa. The resolutions contained few details or specifics about the plans.

Dallas officials: 120 still on Ebola monitoring

Texas health officials say 120 people are still being monitored for possible infection with Ebola because they may have had contact with one of the three people who got the disease in Dallas.

Officials said Monday that 43 of 48 people on an original watch list had passed the 21-day incubation period for the viral disease and are now in the clear.

But others who cared for a Liberian man who died Oct. 8 at a Dallas hospital remain at risk, along with two nurses he infected there. Nov. 7 is when the wait period will end for all of those being monitored.

Health officials also say they were unaware that federal officials had allowed one of the nurses to fly the day before she was diagnosed with the deadly virus.

Clinics recommend hospitals for Ebola testing

When a Dallas County sheriff’s deputy who had entered the apartment of the first patient to die from Ebola in the U.S. started feeling ill himself, he didn’t rush to the nearest hospital. He chose an urgent care clinic. So did a man who recently traveled to West Africa and was complaining of flu-like symptoms, prompting the suburban Boston urgent care practice where he went to briefly shut down last week.

The deadly virus’ arrival in the U.S. has put the spotlight on weak spots in American hospitals, but those facilities are not the only ones who have suddenly found themselves on the front lines against Ebola.

Urgent-care clinics for many people have become de-facto emergency rooms. They are not, however, equipped like hospitals to treat serious illnesses, such as Ebola, nor do they have isolation units. Clinics are urging potential patients to get checked for the highly contagious virus at a hospital.

Given the problems at the Texas hospital, where Thomas Eric Duncan died and two nurses have been diagnosed with the virus, an Ebola case could have posed even greater problems at a clinic or smaller hospital, experts say.

Obama keeps his schedule clear to focus on Ebola

Rarely one to leave anything to chance, President Barack Obama is playing it by ear this week as his administration’s response to the Ebola scare continues to evolve.

After waking up in his own bed Monday at his family’s home in Chicago, Obama plans to vote early for the midterms and attend a fundraiser for Democrats. How he'll spend the rest of the week is anyone’s guess.

That’s because Obama’s schedule this week is a work in progress, in a departure from the normal practice in which the president’s schedule is previewed days in advance. The blank slate reflects the White House’s attempt to stay nimble, leaving Obama room to maneuver amid a public health crisis that has been anything but predictable.

Last week, Obama twice had to cancel planned campaign trips at the last minute to stay in Washington to focus on Ebola. This week, Obama is hoping to avoid such last-minute cancelations and show he’s singularly focused on the task at hand.

White House aides have acknowledged the federal government’s initial response to Ebola reaching American soil was lacking, and hope a more robust response now will make up for early errors. In a sign of how all-encompassing the Ebola situation has become, Obama convened a rare Saturday evening meeting of roughly 20 top aides and Cabinet officials to discuss Ebola.

Obama’s new “Ebola czar,” Ron Klain, is expected to start work this week after being tapped by Obama on Friday to coordinate the government-wide response.

China gives $6M for food in Ebola countries

China has donated $6 million to help stave off food shortages in the three African countries worst affected by the Ebola virus, the World Food Program announced Monday, part of Beijing’s growing assistance to a continent where its companies have become major investors.

WFP China representative Brett Rierson said the money is being spent on one month of emergency food rations of mainly rice, lentils and yellow peas for 300,000 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The Ebola outbreak in those countries has killed more than 4,500 people out of the 9,000 infected and led to widespread transport disruptions, higher food prices and the abandonment of crops and livestock by some farmers fleeing to areas considered safe.

The WFP has now raised $59 million of a $179 million appeal for emergency Ebola food aid, with the U.S. contributing $8.8 million and Japan $6 million.

Altogether, donors have given nearly $400 million to U.N. agencies and aid groups, still far from the $988 million requested.

China has already dispatched several planeloads of medical material and aid teams to the three worst affected countries, and at least one Chinese pharmaceutical firm is among those working on a vaccine. With the world’s second-largest economy and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, China is beginning to make larger contributions to international aid efforts.

EU seeking 1B euros to fight for Ebola

European Union nations are working to find 1 billion euros to help fight Ebola in West Africa and seeking a common approach in dealing with the disease outbreak.

EU foreign ministers on Monday opened a week of talks so that their 28 leaders can agree by Friday on a package of measures which should include anything from financial aid to common repatriation procedures, treatment facilities on site and training for health workers.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that the billion-euro fund was needed as soon as possible because “we’ve got a very short window to get on top of it and prevent the uncontrollable spread of the disease.”

The Netherlands said it was preparing to send a frigate to the area to help out.

University of Georgia cancels lecture by Liberian journalist

The University of Georgia canceled the Oct. 23 guest lecture of an award-winning Liberian journalist after concerns were raised that it could expose students and the campus community to the Ebola virus.

Wade C.L. Williams was to deliver the lecture about her experiences covering the Ebola crisis. An editor for Front Page Africa, a news website and newspaper in Monrovia, Liberia, she works in one of the hardest-hit West African countries, with close to 2,500 deaths reported this year from the virus.

On Oct. 13, the university touted her upcoming visit, co-sponsored by the journalism school, on its website. But days later, in the face of the concerns of parents and the public, the school said her trip would be postponed and that the lecture would be delivered by Washington Post reporter Todd Frankel. Frankel covered the Ebola crisis earlier this year.

The university issued a statement saying the change was out of an abundance of caution.

“She was disappointed but greatly understanding,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of the journalism school. “We will have her here after the crisis is over. We are deeply dedicated and committed to learn from her perspective.”

Spanish nursing assistant clear of Ebola virus

Spain says a test has shown a nursing assistant who became infected with Ebola is now clear of all traces of the virus.

A blood test has revealed that Teresa Romero’s immune system has eliminated the virus from her body, according to a statement released by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s office late Sunday.

Manuel Cuenca, microbiology director at Madrid’s Carlos III health care complex, says a second test in the coming hours is needed to absolutely confirm Romero’s recovery.

Romero, 44, had treated two patients who died of Ebola at Carlos III hospital. The first, Miguel Pajares, contracted the disease in Liberia and died on Aug. 12 despite having been treated with the experimental drug ZMapp. The second was Manuel Garcia Viejo who died, aged 69, on Sept. 25.

New military medical team to help with Ebola in US

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the military to prepare and train a 30-member medical support team that could provide short-term help to civilian health professionals if there are more Ebola cases in the United States.

His spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, says the team drawn from across the military services will include 20 critical care nurses, five doctors trained in infectious diseases and five trainers in infectious disease protocols.

The team will go to Fort Sam Houston in Texas for training in infection control and special protective equipment. Training is expected to start within the next week.

Kirby says the team won’t be sent to West Africa or elsewhere overseas. He says members will be called up for service in the U.S. only if needed by public health officials.

-With files from the Associated Press and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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