The Ebola fumble in Dallas

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Image copyright Getty Images

When President Barack Obama first spoke about Ebola after an American aid worker was flown to Atlanta for treatment having contracted the disease in West Africa, he said the risk of an outbreak was small in the extreme. It was all about containment.

Spool forward to today, and let's just look at the maths for Texas alone.

The Dallas Presbyterian Hospital treated one Liberian, Thomas Duncan, who died. From caring for him, two nurses have now contracted the disease.

Nearly 80 health workers are under observation. It is claimed by the biggest nursing union that those charged with his care did not have the right protective clothing, flesh was exposed, there were no clear guidelines of what to wear, how to wear it, and how to disrobe.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concedes that it is possible flesh was left exposed when treating Duncan. And that is why among those nearly 80 still under observation, no one can rule out the possibility that there will be further cases.

This is a crude, and damning, statistic but so far Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) has treated thousands of people in West Africa with Ebola, and has seen 16 medical workers contract the disease. This hospital in Dallas has treated just one patient, and has two sick healthcare staff.

Image copyright Getty Images

In the country with the most advanced healthcare of anywhere in the world, with the best trained health workers, with resources that any third world medical centre would kill for, the question that - not surprisingly - is being asked is how in the name of God is this possible.

Now if this bit causes you to arch an eyebrow, the next bit has caused many jaws to hit the floor. The day before the second nurse was diagnosed she flew on a commercial flight from Cleveland, Ohio, back to Dallas.

The CDC is now trying to reach 132 passengers who were on the plane with her as a matter of urgency. The CDC has said it was a clear breach of guidelines and protocol for a health worker under observation to fly, or travel on a bus or a train. But did the nurse herself know this?

Image copyright AP
Image caption The infected nurse flew on Frontier Airlines the evening before diagnosis

Remember that word containment? It seems to be quite the reverse. It is as though someone has taken Steven Soderbergh's script from the film Contagion and decided to try to make it reality - what is it they say about life imitating art?

Of course, there is no serious outbreak in the US - there are two healthcare workers who've contracted the disease and are receiving the best possible treatment, and it may be that these will be the first and last cases contracted in the country.

But no wonder the president has cancelled his scheduled trips to New Jersey and Connecticut today. The public like to see their political leaders "gripping" a crisis. What has been seen so far is a crisis being fumbled.