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Nurse Nina Pham To Be Transferred To NIH For Ebola Treatment

President Barack Obama speaks to the media about Ebola during a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Wednesday with members of his team coordinating the government's response to the Ebola outbreak.
Image credit: Jacquelyn Martin

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Updated at 1:40 p.m. ET

A top government health official confirms that Nina Pham, the 26-year-old nurse who became infected with Ebola after treating a patient with the disease at a Dallas hospital, will be transferred to a high-level containment facility at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said in testimony before a House committee that Pham will be admitted to the NIH tonight.

There she will will be given “state of the art care” in a high-level containment facility, he says.

Officials have said Pham’s condition is good. Another nurse, Amber Vinson, who also cared for index patient Thomas Eric Duncan has also contracted the disease. Duncan died from the disease last week.

Dr. Daniel Varga, a top official from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where Duncan was treated by both Pham and Vinson, acknowledged the facility’s mishandling of the original diagnosis and subsequent handling of the situation.

“We made mistakes,” Varga said in a video link with lawmakers.

Varga’s testimony comes as President Obama, for a second day, canceled out-of-town trips to stay in Washington, D.C., and monitor the response to the outbreak. The president had planned to travel to Rhode Island and New York today.

Duncan first sought treatment at the hospital on Sept. 26 but was sent home with antibiotics despite a high fever and having told a nurse of his recent travel to Liberia, an Ebola hot spot. Two days later, he returned to the hospital, was placed in isolation and subsequently diagnosed with Ebola. That’s when officials believe Pham and Vinson, 29, became infected.

In his testimony, Varga acknowledges that the hospital did not correctly diagnose the disease on Duncan’s first visit. “We are deeply sorry,” he says.

After treating Duncan but before she exhibited symptoms, Vinson traveled by commercial airliner to and from Cleveland. That has raised questions about why she was allowed to travel with the public and whether anyone in an official capacity cleared her to do so. Her reported temperature was below the threshold set by the agency, and she had no symptoms, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman David Daigle, who talked to The Associated Press. The CDC has said that the likelihood of her passing the virus to a fellow passenger is considered very low.

In a statement issued early Thursday from Texas Health Presbyterian, the hospital responded to allegations by National Nurses United that protocols and equipment were not up to the task of treating Duncan. The hospital says it followed CDC guidelines at the time.

Texas Health Presbyterian also said it would offer a special room “to any of our impacted employees who would like to stay here to avoid even the remote possibility of any potential exposure to family, friends and the broader public,” according to a statement late Wednesday, adding, “We are doing this for our employees’ peace of mind and comfort. This is not a medical recommendation.”

Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC, is also expected to testify before the House subcommittee. In prepared remarks, he calls the current epidemic “the biggest and most complex Ebola challenge the world has ever faced.”

“Fortunately, we know what we must do. In order to stop an Ebola outbreak, we must find active cases, respond appropriately, and prevent future cases,” he says in the prepared testimony. “The use of real-time diagnostics is extremely important to identify new cases. We must support the strengthening of health systems and assist in training healthcare providers.

“Once active cases have been identified, we must support quality patient care in treatment centers, prevent further transmission through proper infection control practices, and protect healthcare workers,” he says.

Obama has made ramping up efforts to respond to Ebola a priority and wants to make sure what happened in Dallas doesn’t happen elsewhere across the country. He said efforts are being taken very seriously at the highest levels of the government.

“As soon as somebody is diagnosed with Ebola, we want a rapid response team, a SWAT team, essentially, from the CDC to be on the ground as quickly as possible — hopefully within 24 hours — so that they are taking the local hospital step by step through exactly what needs to be done and making sure that all the protocols are properly observed; that the use of protective equipment is done effectively; that disposal of that protective equipment is done properly,” Obama said after Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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