Nina Pham, the Texas nurse who was diagnosed with Ebola, is being treated at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda. She was flown to the NIH center following a request by Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where she worked.
Pham, 26, contracted the Ebola virus at that Texas hospital while treating patient Thomas Eric Duncan, who later died from exposure to Ebola. He had traveled to this country from Liberia.
The NIH’s special clinic studies unit, where she is being treated, is a high-level isolation facility and is staffed with infectious-diseases and critical-care specialists. There is room for only two patients there. It is one of only four such facilities in the country, according to the NIH.
Two nurses stay in Pham’s room at all times, working on 12-hour shifts, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (NIAID). Should her condition worsen, the shifts would be limited to eight-hour rotations, he said. On Tuesday, Pham’s condition was upgraded from fair to good.
According to Dr. Rick Davey, deputy clinical director at the NIAID division of clinical research, the number of nurses, physicians and support staff working with Pham “certainly exceeds 50 to 60 individuals.” Meanwhile, the NIH continues to train employees on how best to work with Ebola patients.
It is important to have two nurses together at all times, which Fauci referred to as the buddy system.
Patients in the clinical center have volunteered to participate in a NIH clinical protocol. While Pham will be treated medically, how she reacts to treatment and how the virus works in her system also will be studied by NIH workers.
NIH officials stressed that all precautions are being taken to ensure the safety of patients, NIH staff and the public.
Criticism has been leveled at the federal government for cutting the NIH budget, saying it hampered research efforts to create an Ebola vaccine. But Fauci said “it would be incorrect in general” to say research was slowed on any one particular disease.
The NIH has suffered from “a flat budget for 10 years” as well as the automatic budget cuts from sequestration, Fauci said. Research has slowed, but he said he would “hesitate” to point to possible harm done on research for any one particular disease.
Meanwhile, hospitals throughout the country are updating their procedures for dealing with patients who may have the Ebola virus, and five major airports are conducting health checks on visitors from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in a press release said he plans to introduce legislation next month to impose a temporary ban on new visas for people from those three countries.
“Our biggest priority is ensuring that sufficient safeguards are in place to limit the spread of Ebola, contain it at the source and protect Americans,” he said.
[email protected] @SuzannePollak