Ebola-infected Dallas nurse boarded plane despite having slight fever

Texas nurse Amber Vinson is helped up the steps of a waiting aircraft by personnel in this still image taken from video courtesy of NBC5- KXAS in Dallas, Texas on Oct 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Texas nurse Amber Vinson is helped up the steps of a waiting aircraft by personnel in this still image taken from video courtesy of NBC5- KXAS in Dallas, Texas on Oct 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

DALLAS (REUTERS) - A second Texas nurse who has contracted Ebola told a US health official she had a slight fever and was allowed to board a plane from Ohio to Texas, a federal source said on Wednesday, intensifying concerns about the US response to the deadly virus.

The nurse, Amber Vinson, 29, flew from Cleveland to Dallas on Monday, the day before she was diagnosed with Ebola, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

Vinson told the CDC her temperature was 37.5 deg C. Since that was below the CDC's temperature threshold of 38 deg C, "she was not told not to fly," the source said. The news was first reported by CNN.

Chances that other passengers were infected were very low because Vinson did not vomit on the flight and was not bleeding, but she should not have been aboard, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden told reporters.

Congress will hold a hearing on Thursday on the US response to Ebola, with Frieden and other officials scheduled to testify.

Vinson was isolated immediately after reporting a fever on Tuesday, Texas Department of State Health Services officials said. She had treated Liberian patient Thomas Eric Duncan, who died of Ebola on Oct 8 and was the first patient diagnosed with the virus in the United States.

Vinson was transferred to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta by air ambulance and will be treated in a special isolation unit. Three other people have been treated there and two have been discharged, the hospital said in a statement.

Vinson, a worker at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, had taken a Frontier Airlines flight to Cleveland from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Friday. She returned to Dallas on Monday aboard Frontier Flight 1143.

The CDC said it was asking the more than 130 passengers who were also on the flight to call a CDC hotline.

- Low likelihood of outbreak -

In Washington, President Barack Obama said the likelihood of a widespread Ebola outbreak was "very, very low." But he pledged a more aggressive response to US Ebola cases.

Obama met with Cabinet officials to discuss the government's response after canceling trips to various US states on Wednesday and Thursday to focus on the Ebola crisis.

Reacting to the new Ebola case, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said Obama should consider a temporary ban on travel to the United States from countries suffering from an Ebola outbreak.

At least 4,493 people, predominantly in West Africa, have died in the worst Ebola outbreak since the disease was identified in 1976. The virus can cause fever, bleeding, vomiting and diarrhea, and spreads through contact with bodily fluids. Ebola is not airborne.

Vinson's trip to visit family members in Ohio put a second US metropolitan area on Ebola alert. She is related to three Kent State University employees and the school's health services director, Dr. Angela DeJulius, said they had been asked to remain off campus for 21 days. They will monitor themselves for possible symptoms of Ebola, she said.

Cleveland Clinic and the Metro Health System said they had put on paid leave employees, mostly nurses, who were on Vinson's flight to Cleveland from Dallas. They were returning from a nursing conference in Texas.

The Ohio health department said the CDC was sending staff to Ohio to help coordinate Ebola efforts. US airline stocks tumbled again on Wednesday on renewed fears of a drop-off in air travel.

Ebola concerns also contributed to a 1 per cent drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which was under pressure from global economic worries.

Over the weekend, nurse Nina Pham, 26, became the first person to be infected with Ebola in the United States. She had cared for Duncan during much of his 11 days in the hospital. The hospital said Pham continued to be "in good condition."

National Nurses United, which is both a union and a professional association for US nurses, said on Tuesday that the hospital lacked protocols to deal with an Ebola patient.

'Piled to the ceiling'

Basic principles of infection control were violated by both the hospital's Infectious Disease Department and CDC officials, the nurses said in a statement, with no one picking up hazardous waste "as it piled to the ceiling."

The hospital said in a statement that it had instituted measures to create a safe working environment and it was reviewing and responding to the nurses' criticisms.

Speaking on CBS's "This Morning," US Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell declined to comment on the nurses' allegations. The Dallas County Commissioners Court is set on Thursday to discuss whether to ask Governor Rick Perry to declare a local emergency. The declaration would help reimburse Dallas County for expenses related to Ebola, such as overtime and hazardous materials cleaning.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said at a news conference that Vinson, the second infected nurse, lived alone and health officials moved quickly to clean affected areas and to alert her neighbours and friends. A decontamination could be seen taking place at her residence.