World & Nation

Initial blood test shows Spanish nurse now free of Ebola

Protest against government’s health policy
Jose Ramon (center, in black), the brother of Spanish nurse Teresa Romero, and other demonstrators hold a banner that reads, “We demand that authorities respect professionals. All with Teresa,” during a demonstration Sunday in Madrid.
(Alberto Martin / European Pressphoto Agency)

An initial test Sunday showed there are no longer any traces of Ebola in the blood of a Spanish nursing assistant hospitalized with the virus for nearly two weeks, Spanish authorities said.

Teresa Romero, 44, became infected in the first known case of Ebola being transmitted outside West Africa in the current outbreak. She was diagnosed Oct. 6, after helping to treat two Spanish missionaries who died in Madrid in August and September after contracting the virus in Liberia and Sierre Leone, where they worked. Five days after the death of the second priest, Romero came down with a fever.

Her infection sparked a Europe-wide alert over Ebola readiness, and fierce criticism of Spain’s safety protocols. Fellow nurses held daily protests outside several Madrid hospitals, and many blamed recent budget cuts for the fact that they were given just 20 minutes of Ebola training, with ill-fitting hazmat suits and improper quarantine measures.

Romero remains in isolation at Madrid’s Carlos III Hospital. A blood test Sunday found no traces of Ebola in her body, but another test would be conducted “in the coming hours,” Spain’s Ebola crisis committee said in a statement late Sunday.

Her case spurred a social media campaign with a Twitter hashtag #TodosSomosTeresa -- Spanish for “We are all Teresa.” Her husband, who is in quarantine, issued a video late Sunday saying he’s very happy to hear of his wife’s negative Ebola test, but angry about the way her case was handled.

“Until the last drop of my blood, I will defend her honor and dignity, and I will demonstrate in court the huge debacle that’s been the management of Ebola in Spain,” Javier Limon said in the video, which appeared on the website of Spain’s El Pais newspaper. (Link in Spanish.)

Limon previously appeared in a video pleading with Spanish authorities to not go through with a plan to euthanize the couple’s dog as a precaution. The dog was killed, however, sparking international outrage. Although dogs are not known to exhibit Ebola symptoms, authorities said they could not rule out the possibility that it could spread the disease to humans.

Madrid’s regional health chief, Javier Rodriguez, issued an apology to Romero last week after he publicly blamed the assistant nurse for her Ebola infection, saying she kept information from her doctors and was clumsy with her hazmat suit. Doctors who interviewed Romero in isolation have said she may have mistakenly touched her face with a gloved hand while removing her protective suit after treating one of the sick priests.

About 100 people were still being monitored for possible exposure to Romero while she was contagious. More than a dozen of those remain in quarantine, including Limon, but none has developed Ebola symptoms. Spanish officials have said that the country cannot be declared Ebola-free until well into November, when all of the doctors, nurses and cleaning staff who had contact with Romero remain healthy after a 21-day incubation period.

Spain, meanwhile, has agreed to allow the United States to use two military bases in the southwest of the country to support its efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

A Defense Ministry statement said the deal permits U.S. armed forces to use the air base at Moron de la Frontera near Seville and the naval station at Rota on Spain’s Atlantic coast to transport personnel and materials to and from Africa.

Frayer is a special correspondent.