(RxWiki News) On September 30, health officials confirmed that a man in Dallas, TX had been infected with Ebola virus. Now, those officials are taking steps to reassure the public that the situation is under control.
Update (10/2/2014): According to various news outlets, Dallas County health officials now say the infected man, Thomas Eric Duncan, may have come into contact with 18 to 80 people. Most of those people have been notified and will be closely monitored, health officials said.
Update (10/3/2014): A patient with Ebola-like symptoms has been admitted to Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C. The patient, who recently traveled to Nigeria, is reported to be in isolation and stable condition. The D.C. Department of Health issued a press release midday Wednesday stating that it is working with the CDC and Howard University Hospital to monitor anyone showing symptoms tied to Ebola. "At this time, there are no confirmed cases of Ebola in the District of Columbia," the department said.
Update (10/7/2014): Health officials say that the man admitted to Howard University Hospital on Oct. 3 does not have Ebola. Ebola has been ruled out in two other patients in the Washington D.C. area — one patient admitted to George Washington University Hospital was found to have the flu and a third patient had malaria, the Washington Post reports. Thomas Eric Duncan, the patient being treated for Ebola in Dallas, has been given an experimental medication but remains in critical condition. The experimental medication is called brincidofovir and is made by Chimerix. So far, none of the people who had contact with Mr. Duncan before he was admitted to the hospital have shown signs of Ebola infection.
Update (10/8/2014): Thomas Eric Duncan, the Dallas Ebola patient, has died, according to the hospital where he was being treated. Duncan was the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. He died at 7:51 a.m. on Wednesday morning, according to a statement from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas.
"Our professionals, the doctors and nurses in the unit, as well as the entire Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas community, are also grieving his passing," the hospital said in its statement. "We have offered the family our support and condolences at this difficult time."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Texas Health Department and local health authorities are currently working to identify people who had close personal contact with the infected man. These close contacts will then be monitored for three weeks to see if they develop a fever, one of the main symptoms of Ebola.
CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, has repeatedly asserted his confidence that health authorities will keep this virus from spreading in the United States.
"The bottom line here is that I have no doubt that we will control this importation or case of Ebola so it does not spread widely in this country," Dr. Frieden said Tuesday at a press conference.
"Ebola can be scary. But there's all the difference in the world between the US and parts of Africa where Ebola is spreading," Dr. Frieden said in a CDC press release.
"The United States has a strong health care system and public health professionals who will make sure this case does not threaten our communities. While it is not impossible that there could be additional cases associated with this patient in the coming weeks, I have no doubt that we will contain this," he said.
The Ebola virus leads to a condition called Ebola virus disease (EVD). Symptoms of EVD include sudden onset of intense fever, muscle pain, headache and bleeding. The virus is not spread through casual contact or through the air. It is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids of an infected person.
According to the CDC, the time period between infection with Ebola and the onset of symptoms can range from two to 21 days.
"Ebola is a serious illness, but scientists understand, from studying prior epidemics in Africa, means to prevent spread from an infected person," said Steven Davis, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor Medical Center at Irving.
As Dr. Frieden noted during Tuesday's press conference, Ebola does not spread from someone who does not have a fever and other symptoms.
Dr. Davis from Baylor backed up that point. "Unlike measles and HIV that can be transmitted before a person develops symptoms, Ebola is only transmitted after an infected person develops symptoms," he said.
"Once a human develops symptoms, family members living in close quarters can be exposed through direct contact with blood, diarrhea and other body fluids," Dr. Davis explained.
The Dallas case is the first diagnosis of Ebola in the US. Previously, the only cases of Ebola in the US were among those diagnosed in West Africa — which is experiencing the worst outbreak of Ebola in history — and brought to the US for treatment.
The infected man has been in isolated care at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas since Monday. The man had previously presented at the hospital, but the emergency department team had failed to spot the Ebola infection and released the man back into the general public. Two days later, he was placed in isolation at the Dallas hospital.
According to The New York Times, the infected man may have come into contact with at least 12 to 18 people while he was experiencing symptoms — a time when the disease can spread. Health officials are currently monitoring these possible contacts, which include at least five schoolchildren.
"In the US, public health care officials are familiar with successful methods to control epidemics of viral illness," Dr. Davis told dailyRx News.
"They have successfully deployed these methods to stamp out epidemics of measles, mumps and SARS. These agents are many fold more infectious than Ebola," he said.
"To stamp out transmission of viral illness like Ebola, public health workers begin by drawing up lists of all potential contacts. Then they use this list as a tight surveillance ring to prevent secondary infection and assure prompt treatment for any theoretically exposed persons," Dr. Davis said.
CBS News reports that three members of the ambulance crew that brought the infected man to the hospital have tested negative for Ebola.
"CDC and public health officials in Texas are taking precautions to identify people who have had close contact with the ill person, and health care professionals have been reminded to use meticulous infection control at all times," the CDC said in a press release.
"We do know how to stop Ebola's further spread: thorough case finding, isolation of ill people, contacting people exposed to the ill person and further isolation of contacts if they develop symptoms," the agency explained.