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Dallas Ebola nurse says 'doing well' after transfusion

By Terry Wade and Jon Herskovitz

DALLAS (Reuters) - The nurse who contracted Ebola while caring for a dying Liberian in a Dallas hospital said on Tuesday she is doing well, while U.S. officials redouble efforts to stop the deadly virus spreading.

Nina Pham, a 26-year-old Vietnamese-American, became the first person infected by Ebola in the United States while caring for the Liberian for much of his 11 days in Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. He died on Wednesday.

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Pham received a transfusion on Monday containing antibodies to fight the virus, according to a Catholic priest in Pham's congregation. Her patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, did not receive one because he did not match the donor's blood type.

Christian relief group Samaritan's Purse has said that Kent Brantly, a doctor who survived an Ebola infection, donated plasma to Pham.

“I’m doing well and want to thank everyone for their kind wishes and prayers," Pham said in a statement released by the hospital. "I am blessed by the support of family and friends."

The hospital has been criticized for not admitting Duncan the first time he went there days after arriving in the country from Liberia, one of the worst-hit places along with Sierra Leone and Guinea.

In an effort to contain the spread of an outbreak beyond West Africa, where at least 4,400 people have died, officials say they are monitoring about 50 healthcare workers who cared for Duncan, doubling down on safety protocols and asking for more public funding to fight the disease.

Ebola, which can cause fever, vomiting and diarrhea, spreads through contact with bodily fluids such as blood or saliva. The World Health Organization has called the outbreak the worst on record. On Tuesday, WHO said the actual mortality rate is about 70 percent across the three worst-hit countries.

One person known to have had close contact with the Dallas nurse Pham has been put under observation in the hospital in case he develops signs of Ebola, CBS Dallas reported on Tuesday.

The man, who has not been identified, is an employee of global eye care company Alcon, a unit of the drug company Novartis. The company was not immediately available to comment.

In Washington, White House Budget Director Shaun Donovan pressed U.S. lawmakers to speed up funds to fight Ebola, including the remaining $250 million in requested Defense Department money under review.

In a letter to leaders of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, Donovan said a quick U.S. response was essential to containing the crisis in West Africa.

"The rapid spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa shows that time is of the essence. Given the nature of this crisis, every minute counts," Donovan wrote in the Oct. 10 letter to Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers and ranking Democrat Nita Lowey.

DUNCAN'S FAMILY IN GOOD HEALTH

Meanwhile, the family who shared an apartment with Duncan after he arrived in Texas is showing no signs of illness, Dallas's mayor said.

Duncan's girlfriend, her 13-year-old son and two nephews in their 20s had been living with Duncan before he was admitted to a Dallas hospital on Sept. 28.

"So far no signs of the virus in any of them," Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said on CNN. "We check them twice a day, and everybody's healthy."

Rawlings said none of the other people being monitored after contact with Duncan have gotten sick. There is a 21-day incubation period for the virus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Monday that medical experts need to rethink how highly infections diseases are handled in the United States as public fears grow of the virus spreading within the country.

The CDC is working to determine how Pham was infected while caring for Duncan. Nurses groups have demanded better training and guidance on how to use equipment that already includes face shields, masks, gowns and gloves.

The infection of the Dallas nurse is the second known to have occurred outside West Africa since the outbreak that began in March. It follows the transmission of the virus to a Spanish nurse in Madrid who helped treat a missionary who was repatriated from Sierra Leone and died of the virus. The nurse is slightly better and she remains the only known case in Spain.

In Kansas City, Kansas, a patient being evaluated for Ebola was feeling slightly better on Tuesday as doctors awaited test results, said Jill Chadwick, spokeswoman for the University of Kansas Hospital.

The patient, a man in his 40s who had worked on a medical boat off the coast of West Africa, was admitted to the hospital Monday morning with a high fever and other serious symptoms, Chadwick said. Test results were expected by late Tuesday afternoon, and the patient remained isolated, she said.

A patient in Portland, Maine, was being monitored for Ebola symptoms at Maine Medical Center at the CDC's request, health officials said. No details on the patient were provided.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington, Dave Sherwood in Maine and Kevin Murphy in Kansas; Editing by Jim Loney, Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)

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