CDC officials on Tuesday confirmed the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States after an infected man flew on a passenger plane from Liberia to Dallas, Texas, where he is now being treated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.
Liberia is one of three West African nations struggling with the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in the disease's history. According to data from the World Health Organization, there are 7,157 confirmed cases of Ebola and more than 3,330 deaths as of Sept. 28.
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Although hospitals across the United States have reported many false alarms, the Dallas patient is the first traveler to bring Ebola to the United States by passenger aircraft. He is also the first person in the current outbreak to be diagnosed outside Africa, according to the New York Times.
Timeline of the patient's journey
The unnamed male patient flew from Liberia on Sept. 19 and arrived in the United States on Sept. 20 to visit relatives. Health officials at CDC and in Texas have not disclosed the man's flight information or whether he is a U.S. citizen.
CDC Director Tom Frieden has said that the man is not a health worker. The other four Ebola-stricken patients treated in the United States were American doctors and medical volunteers who were transported to the United States by a secure medical transport after being diagnosed with the disease in Africa.
The man first became ill on Sept. 24 and went to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. Health workers did not suspect Ebola, so he was discharged. He returned on Sept. 28 via ambulance. He has since been isolated in the hospital's ICU.
Although the man may have infected others, there is no chance that he did so on his flight because he was not presenting Ebola-like symptoms, according to Frieden.
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"We have identified all the people who could have had contact with the patient while he was infectious. But there is no doubt in my mind that we will stop it here," Frieden said Tuesday.
Texas Presbyterian epidemiologist Edward Goodman said Tuesday that the facility has "had a plan in place for some time now for a patient presenting with possible Ebola. Ironically, we had a meeting the week before of all the stakeholders who might be involved. We were well prepared to care for this patient."
CDC is not recommending moving the patient to another hospital and hospital staff are discussing experimental treatments with the patient's family.
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Officials vowed that Ebola would not become a public health threat in the United States.
"We are stopping it in its tracks in this country," Frieden said Tuesday, adding, "This is core public health and it is what we do day in and day out and what we will be doing here to identify any possible spread and to ensure there aren't further chains of transmission."
Health officials will use a process called "contact tracing" to stop the disease:
- They will need to identify every person who has been in contact with the patient since he became symptomatic. Individuals can only become infected with Ebola if they come in direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person exhibiting symptoms of the virus. "We are just beginning the process; the investigation has just begun today," Frieden says.
- Any person who may have been in contact with the patient while he was sick—such as health workers and family members—will be put under a 21-day evaluation. According to CDC, this likely includes "several family members" and may include "two to three community members." Texas officials on Wednesday morning said that a second person who had contact with the Ebola patient is currently being closely monitored.
- The individuals will be isolated if they begin to show symptoms of Ebola, such as fever, and another round of contact testing will begin to identify any person the new patient may have come into contact with.
Meanwhile, the EMS crew that treated the man on Sept. 28 has been quarantined, according to the Dallas mayor's office.
In addition, Frieden underscored the importance of "barrier precautions"—washing hands frequently and wearing protective gear.
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CDC: How hospitals should prepare
Per its Ebola preparedness checklist, CDC urges hospitals to train workers to identify the virus' symptoms, which include high fever, headache, muscle pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Should patients exhibit these symptoms, workers should ask if they have traveled to Africa within the past three weeks or been in contact with someone who has.
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If patients answer affirmatively, they should be isolated in a private room. Anyone who enters that room should wear gowns, impermeable gloves, eye protection, and a face mask.
If a hospital confirms an Ebola case, it should follow "supportive care" guidelines, which include continuing to isolate the patient, providing the patient with intravenous fluids, balancing the patient's electrolytes, and maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure (Grady, New York Times, 9/30; Ford, CNN, 9/30; Fox, NBC News, 9/30; Mohney, ABC News, 9/30; Owens, WFAA 8 ABC , 10/1; Izadi, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 10/1; Kliff, Vox, 9/30).
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