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CDC team sprints to New York as doctor awaits Ebola test results

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(Bloomberg) — Start packing for New York, the “go” team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was told. A doctor there was back from a West African hot zone with Ebola-like symptoms, and was in a city hospital.

The disease experts traveling tonight are Pierre Rollin, who the CDC calls the world’s top expert on viral hemorrhagic fevers, Rima Khabbaz, the team’s leader, who led the agency’s Washington field response during the 2001 anthrax attacks, and David Daigle, a communications officer.

The “go” squad is a new tactic by the agency to keep Ebola cases contained and avoid the sorts of mishaps that happened in Dallas, where two nurses caring for the first U.S.- diagnosed Ebola patient became infected with the deadly virus.

While the New York patient hasn’t been confirmed as a positive case, speed is essential to quickly identify his web of potential contacts and to make sure health-care workers don’t put themselves in danger.

“For any hospital, anywhere in the country that has a confirmed case of Ebola, we will put a team on the ground within hours, with some of the world’s leading experts in how to take care of and protect health care workers from Ebola,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a media call this month.

Unprepared nurses

Health workers in Dallas were unprepared and under-equipped when the Ebola patient there, Thomas Eric Duncan, arrived from Liberia, said National Nurses United, a union that represents 185,000 U.S. nurses. While Duncan was admitted on Sept. 28 with suspected Ebola, it wasn’t until about midnight on Oct. 1 that a CDC team of contact tracers and epidemiologists arrived to help.

Daigle was on the Dallas team, and described the group heading to New York. For the Dallas case, the CDC sent him to the airport even before booking a flight.

“At the time, I was saying, ‘Who’s the team leader? Who’s on the team?’ and they said, ‘We’re calling people now, just go!’” Daigle recounted in an interview last week.

Rollin has led investigations in remote villages of Asia, Africa, South American and the Caribbean in addition to helping author about 450 publications, according to the CDC. His first field experience withEbola was in 1995 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where he helped clean the infectious disease ward and remove dead bodies. He also helped train local physicians and nurses, the CDC said.

Khabbaz, the team leader, is the deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC. She helped develop the organization’s blood safety and food safety programs related to viral disease, according to the CDC’s website.

On the front lines

Craig Spencer, the patient in New York, worked with Doctors Without Borders, a relief group on the epidemic’s front lines. He arrived at Bellevue Hospital Center, which has four isolation rooms on a separate floor in its infectious disease unit.

A person with the same name on Facebook posted a picture on Sept. 18, saying he was off to Guinea with Doctors Without Borders.

“Please support organizations that are sending support or personnel to West Africa, and help combat one of the worst public health and humanitarian disasters in recent history,” wrote Spencer, next to a photo in which he was wearing a protective gown, face shield, eye mask and gloves.

Bellevue’s infectious disease unit also has a newly built lab so samples of blood don’t have to be transported around the hospital, said a spokesman for the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, a hospital system that includes Bellevue.

–With assistance from Cynthia Koons in New York.

See also:

U.S. Ebola cases might top two dozen by November

Better electronic records could help Ebola fight, researchers say

6 simple insurance tools for fighting Ebola