NIH Director on Ebola Screwup: 'I Think We Just Need to Put That Behind Us'

By Susan Jones | October 2, 2014 | 8:19am EDT

Dr. Edward Goodman, epidemiologist at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, speaks about the nature and treatment of the Ebola virus during a news conference at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, in Dallas. Health officials assured that the recent Ebola case in Dallas is being contained. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

( - As many as eighty (80) people may have had contact with the Liberian Ebola patient who is now is isolation at a Texas hospital, Dallas health officials told MSNBC on Thursday. And four members of the man's family have now been told to stay home as a precaution.

The patient's nephew, meanwhile, blames hospital personnel for major mistakes that may have exposed other people to the deadly disease.

But on Thursday morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Health, defended the CDC for trying to spread a message that didn't get across to some emergency rooms:

"The CDC over the last several weeks to months have been really putting out the message that when people come in with symptoms that are compatible with Ebola, that it's important to ask for a travel history, and to factor that into what your decision is. Unfortunately that did not happen in this case. I think we just need to put that behind us, and look ahead -- and make sure in the future this doesn't happen again," Fauci told MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

Appearing on CNN Wednesday night, Fauci said the CDC's message to the medical community did not get across, but "it was not for lack of trying."

The hospital, Texas Health Presbyterian, turned the Liberian man away last Friday after prescribing him antibiotics, even though he reportedly told a nurse he had come to the U.S. from Liberia, where the Ebola epidemic is raging. That critical information was not communicated to the rest of the medical team, hospital officials now say.

When the Liberian man returned to Texas Health Presbyterian by ambulance on Sunday, he still was not treated as a potential Eobla patient, until the nephew says he called the CDC himself, because he worried his uncle "wasn't getting appropriate care."

"I think this will certainly serve for the rest of the country as a very cogent lesson learned," Fauci told MSNBC on Thursday.

A number of  medical experts have stressed that asymptomatic people cannot transmit the virus. But people who come into contact with an ill person's bodily fluids -- blood, vomit, diarrhea -- can be infected.

CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said the information breakdown at the Dallas hospital -- the failure to note that the sick man had come from Liberia -- "probably delayed this guy getting into isolation area and delayed starting to get him tested, and that's a huge mistake."

Gupta on Wednesday asked CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden if the Liberian man should have been tested when he first went to the hospital:

"You know, we know that in busy emergency departments all over the country, people may not ask travel histories. I don't know if that was done here but we need to make sure it is done going forward. That's the bottom line.

"It's a big country. It's a big healthcare system," Freiden continued. "That's why we do extensive outreach to provide information so that all over the country, people are thinking about that. And if people come in and get their history taken -- have you been in West Africa in the past 21 days? -- and if they have a fever, immediate isolation and testing."

Gupta told CNN's Anderson Cooper: "Hopefully, this sends a message to other emergency departments and public health departments around the country. This -- we cannot get wrong if we're going to be serious about stemming this sort of outbreak in this country."

Anderson's Cooper responded, "Yeah, and you wish the CDC director would just kind of, you know, say really what he thinks, which is obviously this was a mistake."

Dr. Drew Griffen, an investigative reporter at CNN, said the Dallas hospital "clearly stumbled." And Griffin reported that "only a handful" of American hospitals are "really prepared to accept Ebola patients."

It's not just hospitals that are unprepared.

So are U.S. airlines, according to CNN Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, who just returned from Liberia and told CNN's Ashleigh Banfield about her experience:

"When we left Liberia, they were scrupulous about checking for us," Cohen told CNN on Wednesday. "They did exactly what they were supposed to do. We had our temperature taken not once, not twice but three times, once in the car as we were driving up to the airport, and then twice inside the airport.

"They asked us if we'd suffered from a whole long list of symptoms. They asked how close we'd been to Ebola patients, had we attended burials, et cetera. And then there was this team of nurses there and these ladies...they looked pretty vigilant. They were looking at you because if you're going to lie and say you're feeling fine, they want to catch it in your eyes, catch it in your face, does this person really look fine? And if you look at all sick, they're going to send you on for secondary screening.

"However, when I came to the United States, it was not as impressive. A spokesman for the White House said back in August, we are carefully monitoring, he used those words, carefully monitoring people from these countries coming back in the U.S.

"But that, Ashleigh, was not at all what I found. No temperature taking, no asking us about exposures. And we were clear -- my crew and I were clear that we had been in Liberia covering Ebola. They didn't ask us specifics about what we'd been doing. I alone was asked about symptoms."

"The guy was about to give my passport back and say, welcome to the U.S., and he said, you know, I got an e-mail that I'm supposed to do something when people come back from these countries. Let me check this out. So he consulted with a colleague, who consulted with another colleague and they came back and said, ma'am, you're supposed to watch yourself for 21 days for symptoms. And I said, oh, what symptoms? And they couldn't tell me.

"And my photographer and my producer weren't told to watch for anything. My photographer had his boots checked for mud, which is useless for Ebola. So I can't explain why there were these inconsistencies."

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