CDC Keeping Tabs on Those Exposed to Texas Ebola Patient

Authorities are homing in on those who may have been in contact with a Liberian national who traveled to Dallas while infected with the Ebola virus.

Joining state and local authorities in Texas, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is homing in on those who may have been in contact with a Liberian national who traveled to Dallas while infected with the Ebola virus.

The patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, was downgraded from serious to critical condition on Saturday and is currently fighting for his life, according to CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD. Of 114 individuals who potentially came into contact with Duncan while he was infectious, authorities in Texas were able to rule out all but 48 patients, who will now be tracked for 21 days to determine whether they exhibit any symptoms of the virus.

If any of those patients develop a fever, they will be immediately isolated, tested, and given appropriate care, while officials work to track down any additional contacts from their case.

“That's how we have stopped every outbreak in Ebola in the world, until this one in West Africa,” Dr. Frieden said in a telephone conference on Sunday. “That's how we stopped it in Lagos, Nigeria, and how we will stop it in Texas.”

Ebola-infected individuals are only contagious when they show symptoms, which occur approximately 1 week after initial exposure to the virus. The incubation period for the disease ranges from 2 to 21 days, with the most common symptoms including fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, joint and muscle pain, and weakness.

Duncan first reported symptoms of the virus to a Dallas hospital on September 26, 2014, before he was mistakenly sent home. He is currently receiving supportive care, but authorities said he will not receive any experimental Ebola drugs, such as the highly publicized Z-Mapp.

“It takes a long time to make more of that medicine, so it's not going to be available any time soon,” Dr. Frieden explained. “There's a second experimental medicine…(but it) could be somewhat dangerous to use. It could make the patient sicker in the interim, and the family would have that choice, if they wanted to, they would have access to it.”

On Saturday, CDC officials met a flight arriving from Brussels, Belgium, at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey following a report of a sick passenger who had traveled from West Africa. A full medical evaluation revealed no signs of Ebola, and the patient was subsequently discharged feeling well. Dr. Frieden said CDC screening has removed a total of 77 people from international flights due to a potential risk for Ebola.

“As long as Ebola is continuing in Africa, an outbreak anywhere is potentially a threat everywhere,” he noted. “But that doesn't mean we can't do anything. One of the things we do is to make sure that everyone leaving those countries is intensively screened with their temperature being taken, questions being asked, and being observed to see if they appear to be ill.”

As of October 3, 2014, the outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 3400 individuals, with more than 7400 confirmed and suspected cases.

Dr. Frieden added that he is aware there have been calls from many quarters to cut off travel from the affected regions. He noted that doing so would only make it more difficult for health care workers to stop the outbreak in Africa, which he said would increase the risk for the virus in the United States and other nations.

“The bottom line is that we're stopping Ebola in its tracks in Dallas,” Dr. Frieden said. “We're working throughout the United States to increase the level of tracking for any possible cases so that, if other patients come in, they can be promptly isolated. And we're continuing to surge the response in Africa to drop Ebola at the source so that we don't have to deal with it in the coming years.”