Texas Gov. Rick Perry has confirmed that the first US diagnosed Ebola patient, who is now in serious but stable condition in Dallas, had contact with children before he showed symptoms of the virus.
At a Wednesday news conference, Texas officials and doctors said they do not believe the children have contracted the virus, but all involved will be monitored for any signs of infection.
The patient, a male according to reports, was admitted on Sunday to an isolation unit at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital after seeking medical care there just two days prior. A spokeswoman for the hospital said Wednesday that the patient is now in serious condition, Reuters reported.
Edward Goodman, an infectious disease specialist at Texas Health Presbyterian hospital, said the patient’s symptoms were not clear at the time he initially sought care, National Public Radio reported.
“He was evaluated for his illness, which was very nondescript. He had some laboratory tests, which were not very impressive, and he was dismissed with some antibiotics,” Goodman said.
Yet the man’s sister told AP that the man had relayed to doctors that he came from Liberia. Still, despite the current spread of Ebola in West Africa, doctors only offered antibiotics.
United Airlines said Wednesday that it was told by the CDC that the Texas Ebola patient had used the airline to fly part of his trip. He is believed to have taken UA Flight 951 from Brussels to Dulles, and UA Flight 822 from Dulles to Dallas Fort Worth on September 20.
The CDC said there was “zero risk of transmission” on any flight on which the patient flew because he was not symptomatic until several days after his trip, as reported by CNN.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed on Tuesday that the man tested positive for the Ebola virus.
“This is the first patient diagnosed outside of Africa to our knowledge with this particular strain of Ebola,”CDC director Thomas Frieden said.
The virus is spreading rapidly in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, claiming more than 3,000 lives since March. Smaller outbreaks have occurred in Nigeria and Senegal.
The Dallas patient is being treated in a strict isolation area, Frieden said, adding that proper measures are being taken to halt any spread of the virus in the US.
“I have no doubt that we will control this case of Ebola so that it does not spread widely in this country,”he said at a news conference.
US officials, however, will likely be questioned as to how the patient was not immediately isolated upon initially visiting the hospital on Friday. The patient developed symptoms on Sept. 24, and then first went to the hospital on Sept. 26, when he was sent home with antibiotics.
The disease is transmitted only by those who are sick or have died from Ebola, a virus that spreads through direct contact with blood or body fluids. Symptoms can include muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, high fever, and both internal and external bleeding.
CDC’s Frieden did say that while there is “zero risk” that anyone on the flight with the patient from Liberia could have contracted Ebola, since the patient was not infectious at the time, he acknowledged that those in later contact with the patient are at risk.
“It is certainly possible that someone who had contact with this individual … could develop Ebola in the coming weeks,” he said.
Members of the 10,000-plus Liberian community in Dallas said they were being cautious about the situation.
“We’ve been telling people to try to stay away from social gatherings,” said Stanley Gaye, president of the Liberian Community Association of Dallas-Fort Worth, at a community meeting on Tuesday.
“We need to know who it is so that [family members] can all go get tested,” Gaye told AP. “If they are aware, they should let us know.”
While the identity and gender of the patient have not been confirmed, officials that attended the CDC briefing repeatedly used the male personal pronoun in their descriptions. The only confirmed information was that the man was visiting family in the US and that he was not part of public health teams dispatched to address the spread of Ebola in Liberia.
Officials are working to identify anyone who has come into contact with the patient since he returned from Liberia, hoping to monitor them for symptoms over the next 21 days to see if they develop a fever. If they do, their contacts will also be identified and monitored.
“The bottom line here is that I have no doubt that we will control this importation, this case of Ebola so that it doesn’t spread widely. It is possible a family member or friend could develop the disease in next couple weeks,” Frieden said. “This is core epidemiological work.”
Both Dallas County and Texas state health officials said their agencies are monitoring closely any public health concerns that may arise from the Ebola case.
“We have no other suspected cases in the state of Texas at this time,” said Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas department of state health services, at the CDC briefing.
Zachary S. Thompson, the Dallas County director of health and human services, added that “Dallas County residents should be aware that the public health is our number one priority. Our staff will continue to work hard to protect the health and welfare of the citizens in Dallas county.”
A spokeswoman for the Dallas County department of health told The Guardian that the county will be“conducting a public health follow-up” with the patient to determine travel history and other pertinent details.
The White House reported that US President Barack Obama has been updated on the latest in the case.
“The president and Director Frieden discussed the stringent isolation protocols under which the patient is being treated, as well as ongoing efforts to trace the patient’s contacts to mitigate the risk of additional cases,” a White House spokesman said.
The patient is the fifth to receive care to fight Ebola in the United States. In August, both Nancy Writebol and Kevin Brantley were treated at Emory University hospital in Atlanta with an experimental drug called ZMapp after arriving in the US. Both ultimately recovered and were discharged.
Dr. Rick Sacra, an aid worker who contracted Ebola in Monrovia, was released from a Nebraska medical center last week. A fourth patient, believed to be a World Health Organization doctor who was treating patients in Sierra Leone, is receiving treatment at Emory.
A fifth American, who had American-Liberian citizenship, died in Monrovia in July.
The CDC is dispatching a team of epidemiologists and other experts to Texas in response to the preliminary Ebola diagnosis. There are currently over 130 agency experts in west Africa as well.
According to statistics released by the CDC in conjunction with the World Health Organization, the virus has infected 6,574 people in West Africa, 3,091 of whom have died. On Friday, the WHO warnedthat the figures “vastly underestimate the true scale of the epidemic.”
Last week, the CDC warned that Ebola infections in West Africa could hit 1.4 million by the end of January if current trends continue and no immediate, large-scale increase in response measures is taken.