16 February 2019
Police stand guard outside the residence of a Spanish nurse who contracted the Ebola virus, in Alcorcon, southwest of Madrid. Photo: AFP
Police stand guard outside the residence of a Spanish nurse who contracted the Ebola virus, in Alcorcon, southwest of Madrid. Photo: AFP

Spain Ebola infection blamed on shoddy gear, protocol breach

Health workers at a hospital in Madrid have blamed substandard protective equipment and a failure to follow protocol for the first case of Ebola to be contracted outside West Africa, the Guardian newspaper reported.

Health authorities are conducting an investigation after a female nurse at Carlos III hospital had twice tested positive for the deadly virus days after she treated an Ebola patient from Sierra Leone.

Some 30 health workers and those who came in contact with her, including her husband, are now being monitored for symptoms.

Staff at the hospital said the protective suits they were given did not meet World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, which require that suits must be impermeable and include breathing apparatus. 

They said the latex gloves they used had to be secured with adhesive tape and they did not have their own breathing equipment.

Also, waste from the rooms of the two Ebola patients was carried out in the same elevator used by all personnel, the staff said.

The European commission has written to the Spanish health minister “to obtain some clarification” on how the nurse had become infected when all EU member states were supposed to have taken measures to prevent transmission, the newspaper said.

“There is obviously a problem somewhere,” the commission spokesman Frédéric Vincent was quoted as saying.

Spanish health authorities insisted that health professionals treating Ebola patients in Spain always followed WHO protocols.

The nurse had entered the patient’s room only twice, and at both times she wore protective equipment, said Antonio Alemany, the head of primary healthcare for the Madrid region.

“We don’t know yet what failed,” Alemany was quoted as saying. “We are investigating the mechanism of infection.”

Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director in Europe, said Ebola would “most likely” spread but the continent was well prepared to control its spread.

“It will happen. But the most important thing in our view is that Europe is still at low risk and that the western part of the European region particularly is the best prepared in the world to respond to viral haemorrhagic fevers including Ebola,” Jakab told Reuters.

The nurse was part of a team attending to a priest, Manuel García Viejo, 69, who died four days after being brought to Carlos III hospital on Sept. 20. The same team, including the nurse, also treated missionary Miguel Pajares, 75, who was repatriated from Liberia in August and died five days later.

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