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Driver Speeds By Traffic After Activating Flashing Lights: Cops


Police charged a 42-year-old Thomaston man with impersonating a police officer after they said he activated flashing red and blue lights on his car and sped by traffic Friday, but the suspect denies that was his intent.

Thomas Bouchard displayed red and blue flashing lights while driving through Naugatuck on Friday, according to police. Officers spotted him at 10 a.m. as he drove through the Old Waterbury Turnpike and Sheriden Road intersection. They observed several cars in the area pulling over to let him go by as he took off up a street at a high rate of speed, police said.

Bouchard was not dressed in a police uniform, but police said he told them he was pursuing a car that cut him off to pull it over, police said. He did not give officers any other information identifying himself as a police officer.

But Bouchard called NBC Connecticut to say that he would never impersonate a cop and that he has never tried to pull anyone over. He said that the lights have been on the truck he was driving since he bought it and that he uses them for plowing. Bouchard said that he only put them on in Naugatuck Friday to get through the intersection safely and that he knows it was wrong.

Police stopped him a short distance from where they first saw him and arrested him on a charge of impersonating a police officer.


Bouchard is due in Waterbury Superior Court on Oct. 22 and he was released on a $5,000 non-surety bond.

Photo Credit: Naugatuck Police Department

House Looted as Fake Tree-Trimmer Distracts Homeowner


Derby police advise residents to watch out for burglars posing as utility workers after a series of "distraction-type burglaries" in town often targeting the elderly.

On Friday on Grandview Boulevard in Derby, a man posing as a utility employee went to an elderly man's front door and told him he wanted to talk tree-trimming, according to a friend of the victim. Meanwhile, the poseur's accomplice went in from another angle and looted the house. The victim wasn't hurt.

"My neighbor looks out for me," said John Porcu, "I look out for him. And as soon as I heard what happened, I went across the street to talk to him."

Porcu told police what he had noticed. Police say it's the most recent crime of its kind. They urge people to keep their doors secure when people soliciting come calling without an appointment.

A Doberman patrolled one front yard on Grandview, and nearby, a boxer-pit bull mix named Casey, stood ready to take her master for a walk around the block.

"I'm looking around everywhere," said Bruce Wilson, who said Casey demands walks at all hours of the night. "I'm not looking to see people get hurt but this is the way the world is."

Milford School Board Postpones Decision on Proposal to Close School


Milford's school board postponed making a decision on a proposal close a school at its meeting Monday night.

The board has been considering the proposal for a month as part of its long-range plan, a plan an advisory committee has been studying for years. If passed, the district  will close Harborside Middle School on High Street. Then the city government would the take ownership of the property.

"As a taxpayer not having any young children I wouldn't mind them closing a few and save me some tax dollars," said Derrick McLaughlin. "But for the people that need them, I absolutely think they should not close them right away."

In fact, Harborside wouldn't close until renovations are complete at West Shore Middle School in several years. McLaughlin's daughter Teneya, who graduated from Foran High in Milford last year, said closings are necessary.

"They're just a waste of space right now," she said. "Put everybody into the same school."

Joe Filanowski shares that sentiment. He has to pick up grandchildren after school from different schools.

"I gotta pick up one at 3:15, and one a little after 4," he said.

Enrollment has plummeted in Milford as the population has grown older, prompting the consolidation of schools. But there is an argument that declining enrollment is just a phase.

"It's the thing to have big families, and then it goes back to little families, then it goes back to big families," said Constance Welsch. "I never think it's a good thing to close. They're already there. To replace them is much too expensive."

The proposal will be discussed at Monday night's Board of Education meeting.

No Ebola Risk Upon Yale Students' Return From Liberia: Dean


Yale School of Public Health officials have deemed it unnecessary for doctoral students who returned from Liberia to stay home from work, stating they don't anticipate any risk to others despite rising Ebola concerns nationally.

The students were helping the Liberian Ministry of Health on work with "computer disease tracking systems," Dean Paul Cleary wrote in a letter to the Yale community. They originally volunteered to sequester themselves for 21 days as a precaution "because many do not understand how Ebola is spread and some may be anxious about contact with anyone from West Africa," he wrote.

"However, after carefully considering the matter, a University-wide team of physicians, epidemiologists, and senior administrators concluded that a 21-day sequestration was unnecessary," Cleary wrote. "The students will be in close contact with medical personnel and follow CDC recommendations for all travelers returning from affected areas, which includes self-monitoring for signs and symptoms of Ebola for 21 days. This protocol was affirmed in consultations with officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

School officials don't believe the students will pose a risk to their peers and others because they knew the students weren't going to "be in contact with Ebola infected patients or health care providers" and their "risk of contracting Ebola was very low," Cleary said.

The students, will instead take time off to "to rest and recover from what has been a stressful – but successful – research and aid mission," Cleary wrote.



who have returned home from Liberia from helping the country's Ministry of Health with work on

Car Collides With Utility Pole in Ellington


A utility pole was damaged and a transformer blew during a crash on Route 286/Pinney Street in Ellington on Monday night.

According to state police, a car struck the pole and rolled over near the intersection of Pinney Street and Middle Road. Crews are at the scene working to make repairs.

The Connecticut Light & Power outage map does not show any power problems in Ellington.

There has been no word on injuries.

Police said the road has remained open.

Check back for updates.

University of Hartford Alumni Selected as Disney Ambassadors


A pair of Disney employees with Connecticut ties have been selected to serve in the prestigious role of Walt Disney World Ambassador.

Brookfield native Caitlin Busscher and University of Hartford alum Nathaniel Palma were bestowed the honor after a rigorous two-month search process where the two were required to demonstrate their knowledge of Disney heritage and their enthusiasm for Disney Cast Members, guests and the community.

An official ceremony was held last week at “Epcot”, where Palma and Busscher were named from among five finalists to represent nearly 70,000 Cast Members in sharing the magic, inspiration and optimism of Disney throughout the resort and the community.

Every year, thousands of cast members are invited to participate in the Ambassador selection process, which contains several rounds of interviews and for finalists, the opportunity to interact with cast members, visit non-profits and test their presentation and media interview skills.

The Disney Ambassador tradition began during Disneyland’s 10th anniversary when Walt was overwhelmed by requests for public appearances and interviews. Since the first ambassador was chosen in 1965, the program has grown to represent the company, its cast members and ideals.

Caitlin grew up in Brookfield, Connecticut and has served the company in a variety of roles since 2010, most recently working as a costuming leader at the “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!” attraction at “Disney’s Hollywood Studios.”

Nathaniel was born in California and spent much of his young life in Mexico. He joined Disney in 2010 working at the Disney Store in West Hartford while attending the University of Hartford. He most recently served as a performer and entertainment trainer in the “Magic Kingdom” park.

Their two-year term as ambassadors lasts from Jan. 1, 2015 to Dec. 31, 2016 with more than 3,500 events to attend annually.

Photo Credit: Disney

Sick Woman Gets Dream Wedding


When Mark Zvonek watched his bride walk down the aisle Monday night on to the sand of Mission Bay, he couldn’t stop his eyes from watering up.

It was mostly joy rising to the top of the ever-present fear. Mark, a Carlsbad native, says even here at his wedding – the happiest day of his life – there is an element of deep sadness.

Like many grooms, Mark is slightly anxious about the word “forever,” but for an entirely different reason. He knows his new wife isn’t expected to live very long.

Ana Zvonek has Stage 4 colon cancer, which according to statistics puts her five-year survival rate from the time of diagnosis at less than 10 percent. She was diagnosed in 2012.

“We know that things aren’t perfect, and we know we have a struggle and a battle ahead of us," said Ana.

They’re starting “forever” on a steep, uphill climb.

Mark knew his marriage would be through more sickness than health when he asked Ana for her hand in marriage. What he didn’t know was how they’d pull off a dream wedding given the mounting medical costs.

Finding time to plan it was another issue entirely because Ana was in and out of chemotherapy and in no condition to focus on fine details of a wedding.

That’s where a nonprofit founded in 2010 entered the picture. Wish Upon A Wedding is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization providing weddings for couples facing terminal illness and serious, life-altering circumstances.

They partner with folks in the wedding industry who donate their time and resources to a couple in need of a happy memory.

Mark and Ana’s wedding and reception was held at the Bahia Resort Hotel in Mission Bay. Pictures, flowers, musicians, invitations and everything else that goes into a wedding was donated.

“We know things aren’t perfect and we know we have a struggle and a battle ahead of us,” said Ana who told her new husband, “I’d rather have a minute of happiness than a lifetime without you.”

The Zvoneks don’t know how long their marriage will last, so they’re focusing on what is here and now. They’re fighting the fear of death with the power of love and thanks to their wedding planning friends at Wish Upon a Wedding, forever isn’t such a scary word.

Resort Blamed For Fire: Lawsuit


A new lawsuit blames the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa for the Poinsettia Fire, a blaze that destroyed 23 homes and apartments and burned 600 acres in Carlsbad last May.

Attorney Gerald Singleton says on Oct. 10, he filed the suit on behalf of multiple homeowners, renters and business owners who lost everything, were injured or had property destroyed in the flames.

The lawsuit alleges La Costa Resort is responsible for starting the fire because it was negligent in maintaining and operating its property and equipment and because it failed to safeguard against the fire’s spread to nearby communities.

According to the complaint, Omni should have taken precautions against fire risk when working with maintenance equipment that could ignite brush.

Calls for response to Omni have not been returned. While investigators have pinpointed where the Poinsettia Fire started, they still have not said what caused it.

A month after the Poinsettia Fire raged through North County, investigators determined it had started on the La Costa Golf Course, which was bought by Omni in 2013.

Wild, hot winds caused the fire to quickly grow out of control along Poinsettia Lane and beyond on May 14.

It was one of nine wildfires fueled by Santa Ana winds, hot temperatures and dry vegetation that made up the May firestorm. Altogether, those blazes cost county agencies $27.9 million in response and $29.8 million in damage.

The Poinsettia Fire accounted for about $12.5 million in response costs and $12 million in private property losses. The city of Carlsbad estimated it would take $8 million to restore natural habitats and control erosion due to the fire.

In the end, the flames tore through five homes, 18 apartment units and one commercial building, forcing thousands to evacuate. Another four homes had major damage, while 22 residences received minor damage.

Plane's Walls Fall Apart in Midair


An American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Dallas made an emergency landing at SFO after panels inside the plane's cabin began to come apart in mid-air, the airline confirmed Monday afternoon.

AA Flight 2293 landed without incident at about 2:15 p.m., an hour after takeoff, and taxied to the gate, according to FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor.

The plane’s captain decided to return to San Francisco “after several interior wall panels came loose while in the air,” American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said.

James Wilson was one of the passengers aboard the Boeing 757.

"All of a sudden there were loud popping sounds and ripping noise," Wilson said in an interview with NBC Bay Area.

The Federal Aviation Administration said earlier that the plane had lost cabin pressure. Miller, the American Airlines spokesman, said the cabin never lost pressure and "oxygen masks were never deployed."

Miller blamed the issue on a blown air duct.

The above photos were taken by Wilson, who also wrote on Facebook that the tear visible in the plane's cabin wall panel opened up while the plane was in the air.

"American Flight 2293 depressurized and started coming apart mid air," Wilson wrote. "Please pray for us."

Wilson said the flight attendants aboard the jet did a good job of keeping everyone calm.

No one was injured, SFO officials said. Miller said the passengers would be put up in hotel rooms.

The FAA will work with the airline to determine the problem before the plane flies again, Gregor said.

American Airlines was scheduled to have another plane fly the passengers back to Dallas on Tuesday morning.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: James Wilson
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2nd Ebola Patient Identified


The nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas who tested positive for Ebola has received a blood donation from a North Texas doctor who survived his bout with the potentially deadly disease.

Nina Pham, 26, is believed to be the first person to contract Ebola within the United States.

A spokesperson for Samaritan's Purse said Dr. Kent Brantly, the Fort Worth physician who survived Ebola after he was treated at Emory University Medical Center in Atlanta earlier this summer, donated blood to Pham on Sunday.

Brantly, who previously said he offered to donate blood to first Dallas Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan but was not a compatible blood type, went to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital to make a plasma donation.

Brantly didn't have to go far to make the blood donation for Pham. He recently moved back to North Texas after recovering from Ebola in Atlanta.

Pham tested positive for Ebola in tests from the Texas Department of State Health Services, and the diagnosis was confirmed in a test conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Pham is a 2010 graduate of Texas Christian University's nursing program and, according to NBC News, passed her Texas Board of Nursing registration exam the same year. On Aug. 1 of this year, Pham received her certificate in critical care nursing — less that two months before she would be part of the team treating Duncan.

A critical care nurse deals specifically with "life-threatening problems," and patients who are "vulnerable, unstable and complex, thereby requiring intense and vigilant nursing care," according to the website of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, the body that certified Pham, NBC News reported.

Before college, Pham went to Nolan Catholic High School in Fort Worth and graduated in 2006.

"She was such a good science student," said Gaye Houk, one of Pham's high school teachers. "She was kind of one of our leaders in the science department. We had a lot from that group that went on to be nurses."

A family friend said Pham's family is very involved in the Catholic Church.

"Like her family, she is a very devoted individual," said Thomas Ha. "She will serve you first, before she takes care of herself."

Ha said Pham is dedicated to her profession.

"Instead of taking care of that patient as much as the medical ethics requires, she goes beyond that," said Ha. "She wants to save people."

Pham lives in Dallas, and her apartment on the 3700 block of Marquita Avenue was thoroughly cleaned and desanitized by a hazmat crew. Phase two of that cleaning began Monday afternoon, according to the City of Dallas. In the meantime, officials moved Pham's dog, Bentley, a spaniel breed, to a temporary location where it can be cared for and monitored for Ebola.

TCU Communications Director Lisa Albert said in a statement that they have no reason to suspect Pham had visited the Fort Worth campus while infected, while asking that they keep the alum in their thoughts and prayers.

Federal and local health officials are trying to identify how Pham became infected with Ebola while following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety protocols, which include wearing a gloves, a mask, a gown and a shield.

While it's still not clear how she became exposed, she has been working with CDC investigators to make sure no one else ends up in isolation.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said Sunday that a "breach in protocol" led to the infection, though officials have not yet identified the source of the lapse. After some interpreted his statement as finding fault with either the nurse or hospital, Frieden clarified his statement on Monday.

"I spoke about a 'breach in protocol' and that's what we speak about in public health when we're talking about what needs to happen and our focus is to say, would this protocol have prevented the infection? And we believe it would have," Frieden said. "But, some interpreted that as finding fault with the hospital or the health care worker. And, I'm sorry if that was the impression given. That was certainly not my intention. People on the front lines are really protecting all of us. People on the front lines are fighting Ebola."

The state health department said Pham reported a low-grade fever Friday night and was moved to a 24-bed Intensive Care Unit at the hospital being used as an isolation unit. The preliminary test result confirming Ebola was received late Saturday in a process that took less than 90 minutes.

Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas said a close contact of Pham's has already proactively been put into isolation at the hospital. The car Pham drove to the hospital has been decontaminated and secured. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said everything the patient touched has been decontaminated to ensure everyone's safety.

"The enemy here is a virus. Ebola. It's not a person. It's not a country. It's not a place. It's not a hospital. It's a virus. It's a virus that's tough to fight. But together, I'm confident that we will stop it. What we need to do is all take responsibility for improving the safety of those on the front lines," Frieden said in a statement Monday. "I feel awful that a health care worker became infected in the care of an Ebola patient. She was there trying to help the first patient survive and now she has become infected. All of us have to work together to do whatever is possible to reduce the risk that any other health care worker becomes infected."

Ebola is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids of a sick person or exposure to contaminated objects such as needles. People are not contagious before symptoms, such as fever, develop.

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Police Seek Shooter Who Killed 24-Year-Old


A 24-year-old Bridgeport resident was shot and killed on Monday afternoon after a dispute.

After Davon Robertson, 24, of Bridgeport, was involved in an altercation "with a group of young males" at the intersection of East Main and Pearl streets, one of the boys followed him for about a clock and shot at him several times. Robertson was fatally wounded when he was shot at about 12:30 p.m. near Pearl and Brooks streets, police said.

An ambulance transported Robertson to the hospital, where he later died.

"Detectives are following strong leads," Police Chief Joseph L. Gaudett Jr. said in a statement. "We are confident we will bring justice to the victim's family."

Police continue to investigate.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Flickr RF

1,396-Foot Tower Topped Off, Becomes NYC's Second-Tallest Building


The residential building under construction that has been racing up the Manhattan skyline the past year was topped off Tuesday, making it the city’s second-tallest building.

The final few feet of 432 Park Ave. were added on Tuesday, putting the tower’s final height at 1,396 feet, according to Curbed. The building, which will one day house condos with price tags approaching $100 million is, for the time being, the tallest residential tower in the Western Hemisphere.

The building’s top floor is about 150 feet higher than the Empire State Building, and is arguably taller than One World Trade Center. The 1,776-foot building holds is the city’s tallest building, but is actually 28 feet shorter than 432 Park Ave. if its 408-foot spire isn’t included.

The building is one of several super-tall residential buildings planned for or under construction on 57th Street and supplants One57 a few blocks away as the city’s tallest residential tower.

According to Curbed, it will eventually lose that title itself by the Nordstrom Tower, which broke ground earlier this year on 57th Street and will be 1,775 feet upon completion in 2018.

Photo Credit: Macklowe Properties

Southington Man Arrested at Bristol Hotel


 A Southington man was arrested at a Bristol hotel after grabbing a mop from an employee and pushing her into a corner.

According to Bristol police, they were called to the Double Tree Hotel, 42 Century Drive around 6:30 p.m. Monday night.

When they arrived, they learned that John Thornton, 30, had grabbed a mop from a female employee while she was moping the floor.

Thornton then began to mop the floor and mopped over the employees shoes several times.

When the employee requested him to stop, he pushed her and forced her into a corner. When police arrived, they found her shaking and crying.

Thornton was arrested at the scene and charged with  Breach of Peace. During his transport to the police station, Thornton shouted insults and expletives at officers and threatened them with bodily harm.

He was additionally charged with Threatening.

Thornton is due in Bristol Superior Court on 10/27.

4 Rescued From Trench Collapse in New Haven


Four men were pulled from a trench collapse on the SCSU campus on Wintergreen Avenue in New Haven on Tuesday morning.

The workers were were trapped around 9:20 a.m., according to New Haven fire officials. 

Three of the victims were able to free themselves, but the fourth needed to be rescued by emergency crews.

"Very, very lucky individuals. It could have been a lot worse, said New Haven Battalion Chief William Gould. "We don't know what caused the collapse, that will be investigated."

All four suffered non-life threatening injuries and were taken to the hospital to be checked out, Gould  said.

The workers were installing a water line when the collapse happened, according to New Haven mayor Toni Harp.

Personnel from OSHA have been asked to respond to the scene.

Wintergreen Avenue was closed for about 90 minutes, but reopened just before 11 a.m.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Homeless Man Illegally Sold Stolen Guns: State Police


State police arrested a homeless man in a sting operation on charges of illegally selling several firearms.

Phillip N. Santelle, 26, is accused of illegally selling five semiautomatic handguns and a shotgun to a person in Oxford who turned out to be an undercover agent, according to state police. The guns were reported stolen from a Stamford home.

Santelle didn't have state or federal permits to sell the firearms.

State police arrested him on a warrant and charged him with firearms trafficking, five counts of illegally transferring a pistol or revolver, five counts of carrying a pistol or revolver without a permit, six counts of stealing a firearm and third-degree larceny.

The arrest comes after joint investigation involving state police and United States Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officials.

Santelle was cooperative with state police and he was held in custody on a $75,000 bond. He is due in Derby Superior Court on Oct. 14.

Police Charge Teen With Murder in Fatal Shooting


Police arrested a Bridgeport teen Tuesday  in connection with a fatal shooting that killed a 24-year-old man on Monday afternoon.

Nasir Hargett, 18, of Bridgeport, is charged with murder in connection to the shooting of Davon Robertson, 24, of Bridgeport, police said.

“Detectives worked the case non-stop and made an arrest within 24 hours. It was outstanding work,” said Police Chief Joseph L. Gaudett. “Our officers are committed to keeping our residents safe every day. They also are equally committed to bringing people to justice when they commit violence in our community."

Robertson was fatally wounded when someone from a group involved in an altercation with him at East Main and Pearl streets followed him for a block and shot him at about 12:30 p.m. Monday near Pearl and Brooks streets. He was transported to Bridgeport Hospital and was later pronounced dead there.

“There is no place in our community for anyone who would pick up a gun to settle a dispute," Gaudett said.

Hargett was identified as the suspected shooter and police arrested him on a murder charge and held him in custody on a $1 million bond.

Photo Credit: Bridgeport Police Department

Lawn Mower Ruptures Waterford Gas Tank: Police


Waterford police received multiple 911 calls Tuesday reporting a loud explosion after a gas tank was punctured on Miner Lane.

A person mowing the lawn at a former town landfill ruptured a gas tank in the area, Waterford police said on Facebook.

"There does not appear to be any danger to the public, but please stay away from the area," the police department posted on Facebook.

At least one person was injured.

The Waterford police and fire departments are investigating the incident as an industrial accident.

More information will be provided when it becomes available.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Teen Broke Into Home, Threw New Year's Party: Cops


A Pennsylvania teen accused of breaking into a West Hartford home and throwing a New Year's Eve party two years ago was arrested last week, police said.

Daniel Carl Hein, 19, of Levittown, Pennsylvania, is suspected of breaking into a West Hartford house on Dec. 31, 2012, while the residents were away on vacation, and hosting a booze-filled New Year's Eve party for young people, police said.

Items were missing from the home and property was damaged during the party.

Hein was extradited from Pennsylvania and arrested on Oct. 8 at noon. Police charged him with third-degree burglary, conspiracy to commit third-degree burglary and conspiracy to commit first-degree criminal mischief, police said.

It's unclear what was stolen and whether Hein knew the homeowners.

Hein was held on a $5,500 cash-only bond and is scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 16.

Photo Credit: West Hartford Police

Aaron Hernandez Seeking Police Video, Audio Recordings


Lawyers for former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez are seeking copies of any video and audio recordings of their client made at the North Attleboro Police Station when he was first brought in for questioning in the murder of Odin Lloyd over a year ago.

When he was interrogated on June 17-18, 2013, Hernandez's lawyers said in a motion filed Tuesday, audio and video was recorded. The lawyers say the recordings may have been made without the consent of the parties involved, namely Hernandez and his legal representatives.

"If such recordings exist," the court filing says, "they may well contravene attorney/client privilege, the Massachusetts wiretapping statute, and/or the defendant's constitutional rights to due process."

A state trooper testified during a recent motion hearing that police were able to discern through a video recording a number Hernandez dialed on a phone while he was outside with his attorneys.

Hernandez's attorneys also filed a second motion Tuesday asking prosecutors to provide them with copies of all trial subpoenas they have served, and any they serve in the future, plus any responses to those subpoenas.

Hernandez is behind bars, awaiting a January trial in the Lloyd case. He has pleaded not guilty.

He has also pleaded not guilty to two more murders out of Boston.

Ebola Experts: Advanced Medical Procedures Could Add Risk


As U.S. health officials take a close look at protocols for treating Ebola after two health-care workers in a Dallas hospital contracted the disease, some medical experts are questioning whether advanced medical procedures might put such workers at greater risk.

Authorities have repeated that Ebola is spread only through direct contact with patients’ bodily fluids.

But two doctors with extensive experience with Ebola are urging caution, warning that the virus could possibly be transmitted through an aerosol spray as a result of complicated medical procedures such as dialysis and intubation. That could be a particular concern for doctors, nurses and other health-care workers in the immediate vicinity of a patient.

"I certainly would be worried about situations where modern medical measures were brought to bear on Ebola-infected patients, because we don’t have any experience with that," said Dr. C.J. Peters, a former U.S. Army colonel who was chief of the special pathogens branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Peters has worked to stem Ebola outbreaks, including one among monkeys at a research facility in Reston, Virginia. 

Dallas nurse Nina Pham and a second unidentified health-care worker became ill with Ebola while caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, the 42-year-old Liberian man who was hospitalized at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital after traveling from West Africa to Dallas. He died last week.

It's not clear how they became infected, and all studies indicate that Ebola does not transmit like the flu or the cold, through coughs and sneezes.

In West Africa — where the Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia has killed nearly 4,500 people — patients are not typically put on respirators or dialysis machines, Peters said.

But in Dallas, Duncan was on a ventilator and a kidney dialysis machine immediately before he died, his family said.

Both Peters and Dr. Philip K. Russell, a retired major general who oversaw Ebola research for the Army Medical Research and Development Command, said putting a patient on a respirator, intubating a patient and other procedures create an aerosol.

"So then the question is, 'Is this a mode of transmission?'" Russell said. "Basically we don’t know.”

Health-care workers at hospitals that have treated Ebola patients in the United States have all used what are called positive air pressure respirators, devices to protect them from aerosol exposure, Frieden said on Monday.

“That is clearly not how the individual in Texas became infected so I don’t think we have concerns about the potential route of transmission, but our guidelines already say that if there is any concern for aerosol-generating procedures such as intubation of a patient or suctioning, then absolutely we recommend respiratory protection," he said.

But late Tuesday, the country's largest nurses' union released a statement from nurses at the Dallas hospital saying staff had treated Duncan for days without the correct protective gear. The nurses at first wore only surgical masks with more sophisticated ones optional and they taped closed openings in gowns that did not cover their necks, the union said.

The union declined to identify the nurses who made the complaints. Its offiials said they were reading the statement so that the nurses, who are not represented by a union, could speak out anonymously without fear of losing their jobs.

"I don't think we have a systematic institutional problem," Dr. Daniel Varga, chief clinical officer of Texas Health Resources, said during a media briefing Wednesday.

Earlier, the hospital had said in a statement that there were numerous measures in place to provide a safe working environment, including mandatory annual training and mechanisms to allow for anonymous reporting.

Russell said there was some evidence from recent studies that the strain of virus being seen now might be producing higher levels of virus in the blood, which could make it more transmissible. The virus needs to be watched carefully to see if it is mutating in ways that make it more dangerous, he said.

“There’s a lot of unknowns in this epidemic and some of them have to do with the nature and the virulence of the virus,” he said. “The others have to do with the way it produces an illness and how it’s transmitted.”

Dr. Daniel G. Bausch of the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, who has studied the risk of Ebola transmission from bodily fluids, said he saw no reason to change the medical assumptions about Ebola.

"I can't think of any example of natural mutations of a pathogen that has fundamentally changed its biology so that we have something that mutated that once was spread by contacts with blood and bodily fluids and now has changed its biology to be spread by airborne or aerosol," he said. "I suppose that rare things happen rarely."

Peters stressed that he thought the CDC was doing exactly what it should be doing to control Ebola.

“Aerosol transmission doesn’t mean that it’s going to be influenza,” he said. “It just means that sometimes it may happen that way.”

And Russell acknowledged the tremendous danger of infection through contact.

"But to assume that there isn't any virus in the air is also I think dangerous," he said. "But if everybody's wearing the positive pressure equipment to protect themselves against inhaled aerosol, that's great. That's what I think should be." 

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News
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