Officials struggle to track everyone who may have been exposed to Ebola

One possibly exposed person is aboard a cruise ship

Health authorities are struggling to identify and monitor hundreds of people who may have had contact with the first U.S. patient with Ebola and two infected nurses who cared for him.

CDC and other health authorities began monitoring individuals who may have been exposed to the first Ebola patient—Thomas Eric Duncan—once he was diagnosed with the virus. They expanded their monitoring efforts after two nurses who care for Duncan became infected with the virus.

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Officials now are notifying, monitoring, or quarantining several different types of possible contacts with the three Ebola patients, including:

  • Individuals who may have been in contact with Duncan before he was hospitalized;
  • Health workers who cared for Duncan in the hospital;
  • Individuals who may have been in contact with the two infected nurses before they were hospitalized; and
  • Individuals who may have been in contact with one of the nurses when she traveled to Ohio just before being diagnosed with the virus.

Contact with Duncan

CDC says at least 48 people had direct contact with Duncan before he was isolated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Sept. 28 and diagnosed on Sept. 30. Forty-four of those patients are being monitored for signs of the virus, while four members of his immediate family who were staying with him in an apartment have been quarantined. 

Officials will continue to monitor those patients for one more week, when the virus' incubation period ends. So far, none of the 48 potential contacts have shown any signs of being infected with Ebola.

Health care workers who cared for Duncan

Two nurses who cared for Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital have contracted the virus. Nina Pham has been transported to NIH in Bethesda for care, while Amber Vinson has been transported to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

Another 76 health care workers participated in Duncan's care while he was being treated from Sept. 28 and Oct. 8, when he died. They are being monitored twice daily for fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, officials say.

One of the workers who cared for Duncan currently is aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean. The employee and an unnamed traveling companion have agreed to remain isolated in their cabin. It has been 19 days since the employee handled specimens and the ship's physician says both passengers are in good health. 

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CDC says it is considering putting all the workers who cared for Duncan on the no-fly list.

Contact with the two nurses

Pham had contact with only one other person before she sought treatment and was isolated, says CDC Director Thomas Frieden.

However, Vinson may have had contact with many people while she was contagious because she traveled to Cleveland, Ohio and took a commercial flight back to Dallas on Oct. 13—one day before being hospitalized with a suspected case of Ebola. Authorities say that Vinson may have shown symptoms of Ebola up to four days earlier than initially expected.

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As a result, authorities have notified the 132 passengers on her flight of possible exposure. Frontier Airlines says it is notifying up to 800 passengers who shared flights with Vinson or boarded a flight that used the same aircraft following her trip Oct. 13. In addition, it has grounded six crew members who were on the flight for 21 days.

In Ohio, 12 individuals who may have had contact with Vinson will she was infectious have been placed under voluntary quarantine. And in Dallas, at least one person who was in contact with Vinson is being monitored (CNN, 10/17; Botelho, CNN, 10/17; Dolan, Wall Street Journal, 10/16; Peralta, "The Two Way," NPR, 10/14; Park, TIME, 10/16; Fernandez/Cowell, New York Times, 10/17; Kalthoff, NBC DFW, 10/14; Hanna et al., CNN, 10/17; Spillman et al, CNN/KTLA, 10/15; Botelho, CNN, 10/17).

Hear from our experts on Ebola

At every hospital in the nation, leaders are scrambling to ensure their teams are prepared for Ebola. In response, our research team has launched a new project, including interviews and a survey, to surface specific challenges and emerging solutions.

Read the five lessons we've learned so far.

Then, hear from the Marketing and Planning Leadership Council about the three messages hospitals nationwide should be sharing with their communities.

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