Ebola is a scary and deadly disease. But one of the scarier aspects of the current outbreak is how hospitals outside of Africa have reacted to the Ebola patients who turned up at their facilities. A Dallas hospital initially sent home Thomas Eric Duncan with an antibiotic after diagnosing him with a "low grade, common viral infection." He died at the same hospital Wednesday morning.
Then there is this very scary account from the Daily Beast, flagged by Garance Franke-Ruta, of what happened when a nurse (who has since been diagnosed with Ebola) tried to seek care for the disease in Spain.
The nurse, Teresa Romero Ramos, had been helping care for an Ebola patient and reportedly told health workers "I think I have Ebola." Yet she received little medical attention until a test came back positive.
We don't know whether the nurse spread Ebola to anyone else as she tried to seek help. Ebola is a difficult disease to spread. Its much less infectious than measles, for example. But we do know that Ebola is only contagious when patients begin to show symptoms, as Romero did. Moving to treat her sooner would have decreased the risk of transmission.
So why didn't the Spanish hospital take a complaint of Ebola more seriously? One possible explanation is that hospitals can be skeptical when a patient presents possible symptoms because Ebola is such a rare disease that is difficult to transmit. Here in the United States, most of the suspected cases have turned out to be false alarms.
This doesn't justify Ebola patients' symptoms not getting the attention they deserve, but it does help explain how Western hospitals have repeatedly botched their handling of new Ebola cases in ways that could allow the disease to spread further.