By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One of the Texas nurses who helped treat a Liberian man with Ebola last month defended her decision to fly after that, saying she had not been barred from traveling and felt normal during her trip.
In televised interviews on Thursday, Amber Vinson, 29, also said she had received little training in handling patients with the virus that has ravaged West Africa, and had no experience with the protective gear needed for such cases before treating the Liberian, Thomas Duncan, who later died.
"We did not get much training," she told NBC's "Today" program, speaking of her work at Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where she had treated Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States.
"The first time that I put on the protective equipment, I was heading in to take care of the patient," she said, echoing criticism from other nurses that the hospital was not adequately prepared to handle patients with Ebola. Hospital officials have apologized.
Vinson was infected soon after her colleague Nina Pham, 26, fell ill with the virus in October, becoming the first two people to contract Ebola in the United States.
Nearly 5,000 people have been killed by Ebola, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the three African nations hardest hit by the virus, which spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.
Both U.S. nurses have recovered, but Vinson's case sparked alarm because she traveled by commercial airplane to Ohio after treating Duncan and before she fell ill with the virus. She reported a slight fever on her return trip to Texas, causing health officials to scramble to track down those who had been in contact with her.
"I was never told that I couldn't travel," Vinson told NBC, speaking from Dallas.
She said she had no direct way to contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) but twice spoke with her supervisors before leaving for the weekend and was told that the CDC said it was OK to go.
"I would not endanger families across the nation, potentially exposing them to anything. I had no symptoms," Vinson said in a separate interview on CNN.
Duncan's case also had Texas officials tracking those who had cared for or come in contact with him. State health officials said they expect the last person being monitored for possible Ebola to be cleared late on Friday.
Passengers on Vinson's flights between Texas and Ohio who were being monitored in Texas were also recently cleared, officials said in Thursday's statement.
Vinson, who was transferred for medical care from Texas to Atlanta's Emory University Hospital, which had successfully treated other Ebola patients, said she was still tired after her illness.
Still, despite her ordeal, she said she would not refuse to treat another Ebola patient.
"I could never see a patient there that needs help and not do everything I can to help them," Vinson said on NBC.
(Editing by Bill Trott and Bernadette Baum)