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First Ebola case in U.S. confirmed in Dallas

The Washington Post
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Traffic moves past Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas where a patient has been diagnosed with the Ebola virus on Sept. 30, 2014 in Dallas. The patient who had recently traveled to Dallas from Liberia marks the first case of this strain of Ebola that has been diagnosed outside of West Africa.

A man who flew from Liberia to Dallas this month was diagnosed with Ebola on Tuesday, becoming the first person to board a passenger jet and unknowingly bring the disease here from West Africa, where it has killed thousands of people in recent months.

Experts have said that such an event was increasingly likely the longer the epidemic rages in West Africa. But health officials were quick to tamp down any hysteria, emphasizing the ways in which the U.S. medical system is well equipped to halt the spread of the disease.

“We’re stopping it in its tracks in this country,” Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a news conference.

The infected man, who was not identified, left Liberia on Sept. 19 and arrived in America the following day to visit family members.

Health officials are working to identify everyone who may have been exposed to him since he began showing symptoms last week. Frieden said this covered just a “handful” of people, a group that will be watched for three weeks to see whether any symptoms emerge.

“The bottom line here is that I have no doubt that we will control this importation, or this case of Ebola, so that it does not spread widely in this country,” Frieden said. “It is certainly possible that someone who had contact with this individual could develop Ebola in the coming weeks. But there is no doubt in my mind that we will stop it here.”

People who traveled on the same planes as this man are not in danger because his temperature was checked before the flights and he was not symptomatic at the time, Frieden said. Ebola is only contagious if the person has symptoms and can be spread through bodily fluids or infected animals but not through the air.

“There is zero risk of transmission on the flight,” Frieden said.

There were more than 6,500 reported cases of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone as of Tuesday, and the crisis has been blamed for more than 3,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Ebola was first identified in 1976, and the outbreak in West Africa is considered the largest and most complex in the history of the virus, with more cases and deaths than every other outbreak combined.

Until now, the only known cases of Ebola in the United States involved American doctors and aid workers who were infected and returned to the country for treatment. All have survived.

There were reports of possible Ebola patients in New York, California, New Mexico and Miami, but all of them tested negative for the virus.

The unidentified person with Ebola is being treated in intensive care at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, according to Edward Goodman, the hospital’s epidemiologist.

From televison to Twitter, the news made the distant health crisis seem like something that could appear almost anywhere. But experts said it was hard to imagine that Ebola would not find its way across other borders — a CDC estimate recently projected more than a million people in West Africa could be infected by January if left unchecked.

“It was inevitable once the outbreak exploded,” said Thomas Geisbert, a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, who has researched the Ebola virus for decades.

But Geisbert quickly underscored how unlikely the virus is to spread in America. For starters, he said, officials placed the sick man in quarantine quickly to isolate him from potentially infecting others. In addition, health workers are contacting and monitoring any other people he might have had contact with in recent days.

“The system that was put in place worked the way it was supposed to work,” Geisbert said.

That doesn’t guarantee that no one else will get infected because the sick person could have transmitted the disease to someone else before being isolated. But that approach almost certainly ensures that the United States will quickly contain the disease. While there is no approved treatment, hydration and other basic medical care is far better here, making it more likely infected patients will survive.

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