The first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola outside of Africa during the ongoing epidemic is being treated at a Dallas hospital. Federal and state health officials say the patient traveled from Liberia on Sept. 19.
Thomas Eric Duncan left Monrovia Sept. 19 and arrived in the United States Sept 20. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Thomas Frieden says Duncan was visiting relatives who live in the United States.
Duncan contracted the virus in Liberia when he helped a pregnant woman to the hospital four days before arriving in the United States.
People are questioning why Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital allowed a sick Duncan to leave the emergency room and return to the community after telling them he recently came from a stricken African country. He came back by ambulance on Sept. 28. He’s now critically ill in isolation in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
Eighteen people that Duncan came in contact with, including five children, are now under medical surveillance. They are receiving regular checks for fever, a symptom of Ebola.
Frieden has been clear that no one on the flight to the United States would have been at risk because the patient wasn’t sick yet when he flew. The patient had been staying with family and not at a hotel. In the affected countries in West Africa, family members, caregivers and health care workers who tend to patients have the highest risk of infection.
“We have identified all the people who could have had contact with the patient while he was infectious,” Frieden said. “It is only someone who is sick with Ebola who can spread the disease.”
Ebola is not airborne. The only way another person would be infected is through bodily fluids such as blood, vomit or diarrhea. And those fluids have to get inside your body through the mouth, eyes or nose, or in a cut or via a needle stick. The virus doesn’t spread in the air, and it cannot persist on surfaces like flu viruses can.
“Ebola is a virus. It’s a virus that is easy to kill by washing your hands. It’s easy to stop by using gloves and barrier precautions,” Frieden said. “The issue is not that Ebola is highly infectious. The issue with Ebola is that the stakes are so high. People are infectious with Ebola when they are sick.”
The Dallas mayor’s office says the EMS crewmembers that transported the patient have been quarantined, just to be safe.
People infected with Ebola usually start to show symptoms within about eight days, but the longest known incubation period is 21 days. No one is known to have developed Ebola infection after that long a time.
The Department of Health has also confirmed another patient is currently in isolation and undergoing testing in Honolulu for Ebola.