– Man diagnosed with Ebola virus in US was sent home for two days (The Guardian, Oct 1, 2014):
Dallas hospital says patient’s symptoms were not definitive when he was first seen, as officials urge people not to panic
The first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola outside Africa during the latest outbreak was sent home with a course of antibiotics for two days after seeking medical care at a Dallas hospital last week, a hospital official said.
The patient, believed to be male, was admitted to an isolation unit at Texas Health Presbyterian hospital on Sunday, after coming to the same hospital two days before.
Edward Goodman, the infectious disease specialist at Texas Health Presbyterian hospital, told National Public Radio that the patient’s symptoms were not definitive when he was first seen. Goodman said: “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.”
Medical officials in the US announced on Tuesday that tests confirmed the man, who had travelled from Liberia, had Ebola.
Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the patient was being treated in strict isolation and that all measures would be taken to ensure that the disease would not spread 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 told a news conference. The disease has spread rapidly in west Africa, killing more than 3,000 people since March.
However, US authorities are expected to be questioned over why the patient was not isolated immediately when he first arrived at the Texas hospital on Friday.
Only patients who are sick with or have died from Ebola can transmit the disease, and it can only be spread through direct contact with blood or bodily fluids. The patient began developing symptoms, which can include high fever, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, as well as internal and external bleeding, on 24 September. He sought treatment for the first time on 26 September but was not admitted to hospital until two days later.
Frieden acknowledged that other people who came into contact with the patient could develop the disease. “It is certainly possible that someone who had contact with this individual … could develop Ebola in the coming weeks,” he said.
In Dallas, leaders of the 10,000-strong Liberian community were urging calm but told people to be cautious.
Stanley Gaye, president of the Liberian Community Association of Dallas-Fort Worth, said the Liberian population in north Texas is skeptical of the CDC’s assurances, because Ebola has ravaged their country.
“We’ve been telling people to try to stay away from social gatherings,” Gaye said at a community meeting on Tuesday evening. Large get-togethers are a prominent part of Liberian culture.
“We need to know who it is so that [family members] can all go get tested,” Gaye told the Associated Press. “If they are aware, they should let us know.”
The association’s vice-president encouraged all who may have come into contact with the virus to visit a doctor, but she warned people not to panic.
“We don’t want to get a panic going,” said vice president Roseline Sayon. “We embrace those people who are coming forward. Don’t let the stigma keep you from getting tested.”
Frieden said the CDC believed it was the first case of Ebola to be diagnosed outside Africa in the latest outbreak. “This is the first patient diagnosed outside of Africa to our knowledge with this particular strain of Ebola,” he said.
Few details were released about the patient. The patient’s gender was not confirmed, but officials repeatedly used the male personal pronoun at the CDC briefing. The CDC would only confirm that the he was not involved in the public health response to the crisis in Liberia, and was visiting family in the US. His citizenship was not disclosed.
The White House said the president had been briefed. “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.
Specimens from the patient arrived at the CDC in Atlanta on Tuesday, where tests determined he was suffering from Ebola. A state-operated laboratory in Texas also concluded that the specimens tested positive for Ebola. Frieden said testing for Ebola is “highly accurate”.
A spokeswoman for Dallas County health and human services department told the Guardian that it will be “conducting a public health follow-up” on the patient which will include investigating travel history and recent contacts.
Friedman said there was “zero risk” that the patient could have transmitted the disease on the flight from Liberia to the US, because he was not infectious at the time.
Health officials in Texas attempted to reassure residents. Dr David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas department of state health services, told the CDC briefing: “We have no other suspected cases in the state of Texas at this time.”
Zachary S Thompson, the Dallas county director of health and human services, said: “Dallas County residents should be aware that the public health is our No1 priority. Our staff will continue to work hard to protect the health and welfare of the citizens in Dallas county.”
The Texas patient is the fifth to receive treatment for Ebola in the US. Aid workers Dr Kent Brantly of Texas and Nancy Writebol were the first Ebola patients to be treated in the US.
Brantly and Writebol were treated in a bio-containment unit at Emory University hospital in Atlanta. The recovered after receiving doses of an experimental drug which has since been depleted. Brantly recently testified before Congress, imploring the international community to step up its response to the outbreak.
Dr Rick Sacra, the third US aid worker to contract Ebola while working at a hospital in Monrovia, was released from Nebraska medical center last week. Sacra had gone back to Monrovia after fellow missionaries Brantly and Writebol were diagnosed. In Monrovia, Sacra treated obstetrics patients.
A fourth patient is being treated at Emory. The patient’s identity has not being disclosed for confidentiality reasons, but he is believed to be a World Health Organization doctor who was treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone.
A fifth American, a civil servant with dual American-Liberian citizenship died in Monrovia in July.
The Dallas mayor’s office says the EMS crew members who transported the patient have been quarantined as a precaution.