Spanish Nurse Contracts Ebola Virus in Madrid

Posted on October 6, 2014

A Spanish nurse has contracted the Ebola virus in Madrid. She was part of a health team that treated Manuel Garcia Viejo, a Spanish missionary who returned to Spain after falling ill with Ebola in West Africa. Viejo was treated at the Carlos III hospital in Madrid. He later died from the virus. Two tests have confirmed the nurse has contracted Ebola. Her only known symptom so far is a fever.

The news will certainly cause concern for health care workers in Dallas who have been caring for the Ebola patient who became sick days after arriving in the city from Liberia. It is certainly possible one or more of the 48 contacts the man had before being isolated at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital could contract Ebola. The CDC maintains a list of contact in the Dallas case here.

The CDC has assured the U.S. public that it will "stop the virus in its tracks" in Dallas. If one of the health workers in Dallas (who did not have initial unprotected contact with the patient) were to fall ill despite wearing protective gear it would shatter confidence in the government's ability to stop the deadly virus. The Spanish doctors need to find a cause for the nurse's infections as quickly as possible.

Sarah Boseley, health editor for The Guardian, writes, "Among the urgent questions now facing the Spanish health authorities will be whether the nurse treating the priest might have removed or failed to put on any part of this protective clothing. Experts will hope there is a rapid answer to that, because there is a real danger otherwise that scare stories, without any scientific evidence, will circulate on the internet."

It is not known at this time if the Spanish nurse at one time failed to properly protect herself or if there was a possible tear in a glove or other protective clothing. Images from Spain show health workers and physicians wearing gloves and dressed in full body suits. Veijo's body was carried off the plane in a protective plastic transporter. The Daily Mail reports that the nurse's colleagues say extreme measures were put in place to prevent the virus from spreading. This included "two protective overalls, two pairs of gloves and glasses."

An NBC story says she was a "sanitary tech" at the hospital. The NBC story also quotes Spanish Health Minister Ana Mato as saying, "We are working to verify the exact source of contact to see if all strict protocols were followed."

If the nurse did not contract the virus through human error or a tear in protective clothing this certainly does not mean the virus has mutated and suddenly gone airborne. Another possibility is that she contracted the Ebola virus after touching a contaminated object while she was not wearing gloves. The CDC's page about Ebola transmission does mention objects as a transmission source. The CDC says "Ebola on dried on surfaces such as doorknobs and countertops can survive for several hours." This is a known threat. A great deal of effort in controlling ebola in West Africa involves procedures like destroying clothes worn by Ebola patients and in bleaching boots worn by workers. Researchers may want to conduct new tests to determine exactly how long Ebola survives and remains viable on a wide variety of surfaces, equipment and objects. Perhaps it does better on some surfaces than previously thought.

CDC's Dr. Jordan Tappero gets help with his personal protective equipment from a Doctors Without Borders physician in the above photograph taken in Monrovia, Liberia.

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