Nina Pham identified as Dallas nurse diagnosed with Ebola

Jason Sickles
A hazardous materials worker looks up while finishing cleaning outside nurse Nina Pham's Dallas apartment. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

DALLAS The Texas nurse who contracted Ebola while caring for the first person to die of the virus in the U.S. has been identified as 26-year-old Nina Pham.

Health officials have not released the nurse’s name, but Yahoo News identified Pham through public records and a state nursing database.

Then on Monday, Pham’s family confirmed her identity to Dallas ABC News affiliate WFAA.

Nina Pham in 2010, the year she graduated from Texas Christian University. (AP/Courtesy of tcu360.com)

Pham, a critical care nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, is one of at least 50 to 70 people who cared for Thomas Eric Duncan before he died last Wednesday.

Pham has been in isolation since late Friday. The CDC confirmed her Ebola diagnosis on Sunday. It is the first time the deadly virus has been transmitted in the United States.

The Dallas resident graduated from Texas Christian University's accelerated nursing program in 2010, the school said in a statement. State records show Pham received her nursing license in June 2010.

The CDC director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, said Pham is in stable condition at Texas Health Presbyterian.

"Our team lead in Texas has spoken with her on multiple occasions," Frieden said. "She's been extremely helpful."

An unidentified person Pham had close contact with last week is also being monitored, but Frieden said that individual has shown no symptoms of Ebola.

Investigators have not determined how Pham specifically contracted the disease from Duncan, who died on his 10th day of intensive care at the hospital.

"If this one individual was infected and we don't know how within the isolation unit, then it is possible that other individuals could have been infected as well," Frieden said during a press conference. "We consider them to be at risk, and we're doing an in-depth review and investigation."

[Related: About 70 hospital staffers cared for Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan]

A day earlier, Frieden characterized the transmission from Duncan to Pham as a possible breach in safety protocols. On Monday he apologized for those remarks.

"Some interpreted that as finding fault with the hospital or the health care worker, and I'm sorry if that was the impression given. That was certainly not my intention," Frieden said. "What we need to do, is all take responsibility for improving the safety of those on the front lines. I feel awful that a health care worker became infected in the care of an Ebola patient. She was there trying to help the first patient survive."

Tom Ha, a longtime friend of Pham's family, told the Dallas Morning News that it is in the nurse's genes to go out of her way to assist others.

"I expect, with the big heart that she has, she went beyond what she was supposed to do to help anyone in need," Ha told the newspaper.

Pham, a Fort Worth native, graduated from Nolan Catholic High School and still attends Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church with her family. Parishioners there held a prayer service for the nurse on Sunday.

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital employees pray during a staff meeting on Monday. (Courtesy: Texas Health Resources)

In light of what happened to Pham, Frieden said the CDC will be "doubling down on the amount of education, training, outreach and support we provide not just to this hospital but to other hospitals and other health care settings that are concerned appropriately about the possibility of detecting Ebola and safely caring for it."

In addition to retraining in infection control, other immediate changes at Texas Health Presbyterian include a buddy system so Ebola caregivers spot one another while dressing and undressing in protective gear. The type and amount of protective gear is being reviewed to see if the removal might be too cumbersome and prone to mistakes. The number of health care workers treating an Ebola patient will be reduced as will the number of repetitive procedures, both of which might help reduce the risk of worker exposure. Staff will also wear respiratory protection in an Ebola patient's room when carrying out procedures that increase exposure to bodily fluids.

"Care for a patient with Ebola requires meticulous attention to detail, and we're looking at every aspect to see how we can make it safer and easier," Frieden said.

National Nurses United, the largest union of registered nurses in the country, plans to host a national call-in on Wednesday to discuss concerns about hospital readiness for Ebola. The group said more than 80 percent of its membership surveyed report they have not been given adequate training on the deadly virus.

In a statement, the Texas Nurses Association said it plans to react swiftly if it learns members don't have the equipment and training needed to protect themselves and others.

"The facts are not known about how the nurse in Dallas was exposed," wrote the Texas association. "It is incorrect to assume that the nurse failed to follow protocols. Just like in the case of Mr. Duncan, it is critical that we approach these cases objectively and learn from a full account of what happened."

The hospital held a series of town hall meetings with employees on Monday. A minister prayed with staffers while Texas Health Resources CEO Barclay Berdan assured workers that the company is  cooperating fully with the CDC.

“We’re working closely to provide information about precautions, care and treatment that are consistent and understandable for patients, caregivers, family members and all Americans who are concerned about how this disease is transmitted and treated," Berdan told employees, according to a written statement from the hospital.

Last month, Dallas officials were slow to decontaminate the apartment that Duncan had been living in. But on Monday, a hazardous materials team was already on its second day at Pham's apartment, located in a popular urban neighborhood close to restaurants and shopping.

Dallas Animal Services removed Bentley, Pham's Cavalier King Charles spaniel, to an undisclosed location where it will be cared for.  Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told WFAA that Bentley would not be euthanized like Excalibur, the dog belonging to a Spanish nurse with Ebola.

"When I met with her parents, they said, 'This dog is important to her, judge. Don't let anything happen to the dog,'" Jenkins said. "If that dog has to be "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble," we're going to take good care of that dog."

 ____

Jason Sickles is a reporter for Yahoo. Have a story tip? Email him at jsickles@yahoo-inc.com. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).

 

 

click for topic page