US nurse Amber Vinson, now free of Ebola, defends decision to travel

Amber Vinson speaks before her release from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia on Oct 28, 2014. One of the US nurses who helped treat a Liberian man with Ebola in Texas last month defended her controversial decision to fly after treat
Amber Vinson speaks before her release from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia on Oct 28, 2014. One of the US nurses who helped treat a Liberian man with Ebola in Texas last month defended her controversial decision to fly after treating the patient, saying she had not been barred from travelling and felt normal during her trip. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One of the US nurses who helped treat a Liberian man with Ebola in Texas last month defended her controversial decision to fly after treating the patient, saying she had not been barred from travelling and felt normal during her trip.

In a televised interview on Thursday, Amber Vinson, 29, also said she had received little training in handling patients with the virus that has ravaged West Africa, and had no experience with the protective gear needed for handling such cases before treating the Liberian, Thomas Duncan, who later died.

"We did not get much training," she told NBC's "Today" programme, speaking of her work at Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas where she had treated Duncan. "The first time that I put on the protective equipment, I was heading in to take care of the patient."

Vinson was infected soon after her colleague Nina Pham, 26, fell ill with the virus in October, becoming the first two people in the United States to contract Ebola.

More than 4,800 people have been killed by the disease, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the three African nations hardest hit by the virus, which spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.

Both US nurses have recovered, but Vinson's case sparked alarm because she travelled by airplane to Ohio after treating Duncan and reported a slight fever on her return trip to Texas, causing health officials to scramble to find and monitor those who had been in contact with her.

"I was never told that I couldn't travel," Vinson told NBC, speaking from Dallas.

She said she had no direct way to contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) but twice spoke with her supervisors before leaving for the weekend. "They said the CDC said it was OK to go," Vinson said.

Vinson said she was concerned to learn of Pham's illness while in Ohio, and contacted local authorities about how to get back to Texas. "I was worried," she said on NBC.

She rejected criticism of her travels, and defended her training as a nurse, saying she did "everything I was instructed to do, every time" in treating Duncan. "I'm not careless. I'm not reckless," she told NBC.

Vinson, who was later transferred for treatment from the Texas hospital to Atlanta's Emory University Hospital, which had successfully treated other Ebola patients, said despite her ordeal, she had no doubts about caring for another Ebola patient.

"I could never see a patient there that needs help and not do everything I can to help them," Vinson said.