Ebola in Dallas: Your End of the Year Update

Ebola in Dallas: Your End of the Year Update
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The first time any of us in the office considered that Dallas might become the Ebola epidemic's American focal point was Tuesday, September 30. We watched Dallas County Health and Human Services director Zach Thompson brief the Dallas County Commissioners Court about the status of a then unidentified man we would later learn was Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national who arrived in Dallas to reconnect with his family on September 20.

Unfair Park published something about Thompson's comments -- he was careful to note that Texas was "not Africa" in an attempt to assuage any potential fears about the virus -- and pushed Ebola back to where it had been until that day, the back of our mind. Any illusions that that was where Ebola would stay were shattered that afternoon.

See also: Ebola Has Landed in Dallas

Duncan was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control as the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. His care, administered by Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital was called into question almost immediately.

It turned out that Duncan had visited the hospital's emergency room twice. The first time, he was sent home with antibiotics, despite having told members of hospital staff about his travel history. Dr. Joseph Howard Meier, told The Dallas Morning News earlier this month that Bigi Sunny, the nurse Duncan told about his travel, did not tell Meier that Duncan had been to Africa. She did, however, note it in his electronic medical records.

Duncan died at Presbyterian on October 8. On November 12, his family announced that it had settled with Presbyterian. Two funds were established by the hospital, one for Duncan's family and another to combat the disease in West Africa. Les Weisbrod, the family's attorney, said the family wanted to make Duncan's life story into a book or movie. Louise Troh, Duncan's fiancee, signed a memoir deal with Weinstein Books on November 13.

See also: Thomas Eric Duncan's Family Settles With Texas Health Presbyterian

October 12, Nina Pham, a nurse who helped treat Duncan, was diagnosed with Ebola. She would eventually be transferred from Presbyterian to the National Institutes of Health facility in Bethesda, Maryland. She received a clean bill of health and was discharged from the hospital on October 24. Pham's dog, a King Charles spaniel named Bentley, would become one of the most memorable characters of the Ebola drama. Quarantined at the Grand Prairie Armed Forces Reserve Complex, it ended up costing $27,000 to watch Bentley until he was certified as Ebola free. That aside, his made for TV reunion with Pham was priceless.

Pham would eventually be named one of Time's people of the year and one of The Dallas Morning News' "Texans of the Year."

In the days after Pham's diagnosis, a second nurse, Amber Vinson, was confirmed to have the virus. She was transferred to Emory University Hospital on October 15 and left the hospital, Ebola free, on October 28. She joined Pham as a person and Texan of the year. Vinson's post-Ebola life has been rougher than Pham's. Her engagement ring was incinerated, and a fund established to pay for Pham's care raised about four times more than a similar fund established for Vinson.

A task force convened by Governor Rick Perry to examine how to better deal with infectious diseases like Ebola released its full report on December 4. Among its proposals was the establishment of two specialized treatment centers for Ebola and streamlined protocols for pets that may have been exposed to Ebola. The task force also suggested the stockpiling of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and granting Perry the ability to declare a "state of infectious disease emergency."

According to a December 27 report from the DMN, the CDC procedures in place in September were weaker than those in place 15 years ago as the United States first planned to deal with Ebola. In a statement to the newspaper, Pham said that she still did not know how or when she'd contracted Ebola.

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