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Spain Seeks Answers as 7 Enter Ebola Hospital

  • Reuters

Medical practitioners wearing protective clothing are seen through a window inside an isolated ward on the sixth floor of the the Carlos III hospital in Madrid, Spain on October10, 2014.

Medical practitioners wearing protective clothing are seen through a window inside an isolated ward on the sixth floor of the the Carlos III hospital in Madrid, Spain on October10, 2014.

Seven more people have been admitted to a Spanish hospital unit monitoring possible Ebola cases where nurse Teresa Romero, the first person to contract the deadly virus outside West Africa, lay seriously ill on Friday.

With recriminations growing over how Romero became infected at the Madrid hospital, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said it was extremely unlikely that the disease - which has already killed around 4,000 people in West Africa - would spread in Spain.

"Our first priority is Teresa Romero - she is the only person that we know has the illness,'' he told reporters on the steps of the specially-adapted Carlos III hospital, surrounded by medical staff.

A hospital spokeswoman said 14 people were now under observation or being treated, including Romero's husband.

The seven new admissions late on Thursday included two hairdressers who had given Romero a beauty treatment before she was diagnosed, and hospital staff who had treated the 44-year-old nurse after she was admitted on Monday.

All had come voluntarily to be monitored for signs of the disease, although none of the 14 has so far tested positive for the disease except Romero, whose condition was described by the hospital as serious but stable.

Rajoy said he had set up a committee headed by the deputy prime minister to handle the crisis, five days after news first broke of Romero's infection.

Romero was infected in the hospital as she treated two Spanish missionaries who had caught the haemorrhagic fever in West Africa and she remained undiagnosed for days despite reporting her symptoms. On Friday, the nurse's husband could be seen staring out of the window of his hospital room, dressed in a blue surgical robe.

Concern has risen elsewhere in Europe after Macedonia said it was checking for Ebola in a British man who died there on Thursday, although authorities said it was unlikely he had the disease. A Prague hospital was testing a 56-year-old Czech man with symptoms of the virus.

Pointing the finger

The Ebola virus causes fever, vomiting and diarrhea and sometimes internal bleeding, and is spread through direct contact with body fluids. About half of those infected in West Africa have died.

Spanish labor unions accused the government of trying to deflect the blame onto Romero for the failings of its health system, after the European Union asked Spain to explain how the virus could have been spread on a high-security ward.

The top regional health official in Madrid, Javier Rodriguez, has said Romero took too long to admit she had made a mistake by touching her face with the glove of her protective suit while taking it off.

"She has taken days to recognise that she may have made a mistake when taking off the suit. If she had said it earlier, it would have saved a lot of work,'' he said in a radio interview.

El Mundo newspaper published a cartoon on Friday showing Rajoy and other officials of his People's Party pointing at the nurse under the caption: "Protocol for passing on blame."

"They will find any way to blame her,'' Romero's brother, Jose Ramon, told the daily El Pais. "Basically, my sister did her job ... and she has become infected with Ebola.''

One union representative said on Friday that health workers from doctors to ambulance drivers were worried about their lack of training in how to deal with Ebola patients.

"Finding staff to work voluntarily [in the isolation unit] is very difficult,'' said Jose Manuel Freire, spokesman for a health workers' union.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization says the death toll from the Ebola outbreak has risen to more than 4,000 people.

The U.N. agency said Monday that nearly 8,400 cases of the diseases have been recorded in seven countries, with 4,033 people dying from the epidemic.

It said all but nine of the deaths were in the three worst affected countries - Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Eight people died in Nigeria and one patient died in the United States.

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