Family of Ebola-infected nurse Amber Vinson defends her trip to Ohio

The family of Ebola-infected Dallas nurse Amber Vinson is defending her from critics who say she was careless in traveling to Ohio knowing she might have been potentially exposed to the deadly virus — and traveling back after developing symptoms.

Vinson, 29, is one of two Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital nurses to be diagnosed with Ebola after treating Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who later died from the disease. Vinson and 26-year-old Nina Pham, the other nurse who contracted Ebola, were among 77 hospital workers who treated Duncan before his death.

“We are troubled by some of the negative public comments and media coverage that mischaracterize Amber and her actions,” her family said in a statement on Sunday. “To be clear, in no way was Amber careless prior to or after her exposure to Mr. Thomas Eric Duncan. She has not and would not knowingly expose herself or anyone else.”

On Monday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Vinson shouldn’t have been allowed to fly.

“It was a mistake and we apologize,” Jenkins said.

Vinson’s family stressed that before traveling she had contacted hospital officials who were in contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vinson indicated she “felt funny” and spent extra time resting during her visit to the Akron area in the days before she was diagnosed in Dallas, a CDC official said on Friday. Vinson didn’t experience typical symptoms of Ebola at the time of her trip, the CDC’s Dr. Chris Braden said, but health officials can’t rule out the possibility her illness began last Saturday, or possibly earlier.

More from the family’s statement:

On Sunday, while in Ohio, Amber received word that Ms. Pham, a colleague she worked closely with during treatment of Mr. Duncan, had been diagnosed with Ebola. Amber was contacted by the Dallas County Health Department and told that the agency had begun conducting outreach to all of the nurses who had direct contact with Mr. Duncan for status updates on their health. She reported that she was fine and provided her temperature reading at that time. By phone, county officials read Amber a letter that contained information about symptoms to observe and report should they develop. She was also told to continue self-monitoring and was asked to report these results twice daily to the agency. During this conversation, Amber, unsettled by the news of Ms. Phan, asked if arrangements could be made for her to fly her back to Dallas on Sunday as a precaution.

Amber … asked if, after returning to Dallas, she would be allowed to reside at the hospital until the end of her 21-day monitoring period. She was told that this was the first request of its kind, but that the agency would consider the option. Once again, Amber was assured that she should not be alarmed and prompted to continue self-monitoring. The Dallas County Health Department informed her that, upon her return to Dallas, someone from their agency would record at least one of her readings, in person, daily.

The following day, Amber prepared for her return to Dallas, and following the request of the Dallas County Health Department, reported her temperature before boarding her flight – three different times. Her initial flight was delayed and two subsequent delayed flights prompted Amber to report her temperature, as instructed, each time she anticipated departure. In all three instances, she was cleared to return to Texas.

“Suggestions that she ignored any of the physician and government-provided protocols recommended to her are patently untrue and hurtful,” the family added.

Nonetheless, her movements prompted Ebola worries from Dallas to Cleveland. Last week, Frontier Airlines said it was contacting passengers on seven flights — including the two Vinson took and five others that used the same planes — to monitor themselves for Ebola symptoms.

Vinson was diagnosed with Ebola on Wednesday and transferred to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, one of four hospitals in the country specially equipped to handle Ebola cases. She is in stable condition.

“[We] remain intensely prayerful and optimistic about Amber’s condition and of the treatment she is currently receiving,” Vinson’s family said.

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Dan Mullin is an active writer and editor for the Pluto Daily who covered the 2014 Ebola Outbreak. Mullin attended the Wake Forest School of Medicine before leaving to pursue his lifelong science goal of allowing humans to live forever via a computer/brain transfer.