A nurse diagnosed with Ebola after treating a patient in Madrid is slated to receive a transfusion of a survivor’s blood, hospital authorities said Tuesday, as the European Commission said it was looking into the first incidence of transmission on European soil.
According to Spanish newspaper El Mundo, the transfusion donor is a Guinean missionary who survived Ebola after contracting it in Liberia. That was not immediately confirmed by the Spanish Health Ministry.
Such transfusions are known as convalescent serum, the name for parts of survivors’ blood that has been stripped of clotting mechanisms and blood cells and contains antibodies that the body produces to survive a virus.
The 44-year-old nurse, whose identity is being kept undisclosed, is in quarantine at the Carlos III Hospital in Madrid. Fifty-two people she came into contact with are also under surveillance.
Three people, including the nurse’s husband, another nurse and an engineer who recently returned from West Africa, are in quarantine for observation.
“Controlling contacts is the most effective way to prevent a communal infection,” Public Health Director Mercedes Vinues said.
The nurse was part of a 30-person medical team that treated two Spanish missionaries who had contracted the virus in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Spanish authorities said they are still unclear about how the virus spread, but medical workers’ unions had complained earlier that precautionary training and equipment for the Ebola medical team was lax.
The nurse visited the room of one patient – Manuel Garcia Viejo – twice during his treatment, according to Spanish daily El Pais. Garcia Viejo died on September 25.
She began to feel ill on September 30, but didn’t present clinical symptoms of the virus, such as a fever. She entered the hospital on Sunday and her diagnosis was announced by public health authorities on Monday.
Those days between September 30 and October 6 will be the focus of a public health effort to trace any possible contagion, because Ebola can only be contracted from a person who already displays symptoms of the disease.
According to Fernando Simon, an emergency coordinator with the Spanish Health Ministry, authorities are investigating the possibility of further contamination of the medical team that cared for the missionaries.
They are also concerned about the status of the nurse’s husband, who had the most contact with her prior to her official diagnosis.
In Brussels, a spokesman for EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said Spain’s authorities would give regular updates.
“Our priority … is to know exactly what happened,” spokesman Frederic Vincent said, adding that the hospital in question is supposed to “respect all the rules – which are very strict – aimed at avoiding this type of contamination.”
On Wednesday, EU member states are due to discuss the Spanish case with health experts – including representatives of the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – as part of regular consultations, Vincent said.
While public health care is a national responsibility, EU member states have been sharing information on: which hospitals can receive Ebola patients; examples of best practice; and practical measures such as the evacuation of patients from Africa, the spokesman added.