Sat, Oct 11, 2014 - Page 9 News List

Ebola leaves Spanish city in fear

Near the hospital where a nurse tested positive, many residents wondered how worried they should be

By Ashifa Kassam  /  The Guardian, ALCORCON, Spain

Illustration: Tania Chou

As she waited for her bus next to a billboard urging people to donate money for the fight against Ebola in west Africa, Elena Felican could only shake her head at how close the threat posed by the virus now felt.

“My sister called me first thing this morning, telling me not to go to near the hospital,” the catering worker said. “She told me the patient lived in Alcorcon. How does this happen? It is really scary.”

Few details have emerged about the first person known to have contracted the Ebola virus outside west Africa. The Spanish nurse, Teresa Romero, who tested positive on Monday, was part of a team that cared for two elderly Spanish missionaries who both died after being evacuated to Madrid for treatment.

On Tuesday, her husband, Javier, said she had followed all the regulations.

“She did all that they told her to. At no moment was she worried about being infected,” he told El Mundo newspaper.

The pair had intended to go on vacation, but changed their plans after he injured his leg, he told the Spanish-language news outlet in a telephone interview from the room where he has been isolated.

Health authorities euthanized the couple’s pet dog because it had been in contact with his wife.

“They told me that if I did not give them my authorization, they would get a court order and enter the house by force to kill the dog. Then what will they do next? Sacrifice me too?” he asked.

In Alcorcon, a city of 170,000 people on the outskirts of Madrid, many wondered just how worried they should be.

“She might have been living in this neighborhood for days with Ebola,” Felican said. “Did she go to the supermarket? The gym? We do not know anything.”

Three primary schools ringed the hospital where the nurse had tested positive, she added, and all of them were open on Tuesday.

Her concerns were echoed inside the imposing hospital.

Juan Pulido, waiting for his wife to finish her appointment, said his family had urged him not to go.

“Every day I sit here, waiting for my wife. I decided today would be no exception,” the retiree said, brushing off their worries. “But it seems like nobody else dared to come — it is empty today.”

The infected nurse was transported to Madrid’s Carlos III hospital late on Monday. She was placed in isolation, as was her husband, who has shown no signs of the virus. Health officials said yesterday they were monitoring 50 more people who might have come into contact with the nurse.

Authorities placed a second nurse from the same team in isolation after she complained of diarrhea. Saying that she did not have a fever — the most common initial symptom for Ebola — doctors said her initial test results were negative.

Health authorities said they had two priorities: Compiling a list of all the potential contacts that Teresa Romero had before being hospitalized, and determining exactly how she had been infected.

The nurse had helped care for Miguel Pajares, 75, who was the first person to be repatriated to European soil for treatment in August, but she is thought to have become infected while looking after Manuel Garcia Viejo, 69, who died in Madrid after being evacuated from Sierra Leone two weeks ago.

After complaining of a fever on Sept. 30, the nurse was told to check herself into a hospital if her temperature exceeded 38.6°C.

Spanish Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality official Fernando Simon acknowledged on Tuesday that it might have been better to have hospitalized her right away, despite her not showing serious symptoms.

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