Despite media reports about a possible second Ebola case, Dallas county officials said Wednesday that the only known occurence of the deadly virus at this time was the man who had recently traveled from West Africa who is now hospitalized.
Dallas County Health and Human Services spokeswoman Erikka Neroes said Wednesday morning there were “not other confirmed cases at this time.”
Tarrant County Public Health officails also said Wednesday there were no confirmed cases in Tarrant County.
Gov. Rick Perry, David Lakey, commissioner of Texas Department of State Health Services, and Dallas County Health and Human Services officials are scheduled to attend a noon press conference at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where the man with Ebola is currently hospitalized.
The patient, the first diagnosed in the United with Ebola, is in an isolation unit at Texas Health Presbyterian but did not develop symptoms until four days after he arrived from West Africa, officials said at a hastily called press conference Tuesday at the CDC’s headquarters in Atlanta.
“He was checked for fever before getting on the flight,” said CDC Director Thomas Frieden. “There is no reason to believe anyone on the flight was at risk.”
The Ebola virus is not spread through the air, but through contact with bodily fluids of victims — sweat, blood, saliva and other secretions.
The patient, whom officials would not identify, flew to the United States on Sept. 20, and began feeling ill on Sept. 24, Frieden said.
He sought care at the Dallas hospital on Friday and was sent home with antibiotics, Dr. Edward Goodman of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital said at a separate press conference in Dallas. Goodman said the hospital is looking into why the patient was discharged.
On Sunday, a Dallas Fire-Rescue crew transported the man to the hospital in an ambulance. This time, he was admitted to the hospital, Frieden said.
The ambulance crew has been quarantined, and the ambulance taken out of service, according to a statement from the city of Dallas.
Gov. Rick Perry is scheduled to stop in Dallas on Wednesday in response to the news, according to WFAA.com.
None of the officials at the news conferences would say whether the man is an American citizen. They said only that he was visiting family members who live in this country.
But a statement released by the city of Dallas said the man had “moved to Dallas from Liberia a week ago.”
Frieden, along with Dallas County and Texas state health officials, emphasized that the patient did not become contagious until Sept. 24 when he began to display symptoms.
“There is zero risk of transmission” to other passengers on the overseas airplane flight, Frieden said.
Asked how many people may have been around the victim after he developed symptoms, Frieden said, “I think handful is the right characterization. Family members, and there may have been one or two or three community members. Our approach is to cast the net widely.”
Those who may have been exposed will be monitored for 21 days, the incubation period for the Ebola virus, he said.
Officials would not release the name of the airline or the flight number.
A statement from American Airlines said: “American Airlines does not fly to Africa and we have been told the passenger was not on a connecting flight involving our aircraft. We follow the guidelines put in place by the CDC specifically for airlines and work with our crews to protect the health of our customers and employees.”
The patient “is communicating and expressing hunger,” Goodman said Tuesday evening.
He said the experimental vaccine that was used on two Americans who contracted Ebola in Liberia this summer is no longer available.
The CDC has mobilized a team to assist Dallas County and the Texas Department of State Health Services with epidemiology, contact tracing, and other parts of the investigation.
“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,” Frieden said.
Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, said the county will get more information to the public as it becomes available.
Stanley Gaye, president of the Liberian Community Association of DFW, said he was contacting members in the Metroplex to see if any family members were sick or had been taken to a hospital.
“I’m trying to get any information I can because we need to be safe also,” Gaye said.
The city of Dallas activated its Emergency Operations Center and went to “Level 2: High Readiness” although no one was available to explain what that means.
A Dallas County spokeswoman said, “Level 2 generally means department activities and personnel have extended beyond the regular work day.”
President Obama has been briefed about the Ebola case by the CDC, according to the White House press office.
Testing and tracing
Blood samples from the Dallas patient were sent to both the CDC and to the Texas public health lab in Austin, which has a team specially trained to handle high-risk specimens, said Dr. David Lakey, director of the Texas Department of State Health Services.
He said the lab received the blood sample at 9 a.m. and at 1:22 p.m. got the result back showing the sample was positive for Ebola Zaire, the strain that has killed more than 3,000 people in West Africa.
“We are monitoring the situation and are ready to assist in any way that is needed,” Lakey said.
Epidemiologists trace contacts by first interviewing the patient and then the family members to identify all possible names of the people the patient might have had contact with, Frieden said. Then, they will outline all the movements that could have taken place from the time the patient’s symptoms began until isolation.
A map will be made containing time, place and level of contact, shown in concentric circles to identify risk as high, medium, low.
The CDC team and other health officials will monitor all the contacts every day for 21 days — the incubation period for the Ebola virus. In Senegal, a single patient had more than 60 contacts and all were identified and none became ill, he said.
Frieden said that anyone with any likelihood of exposure from the Dallas case will be contacted.
In the current outbreak in West Africa — the largest in history — Ebola is fatal about 50 percent of the time. Goodman said he expects that the mortality rate in the U.S. would be less because of access to better healthcare.
In West Africa, he said, “These are primitive locations that are war-torn.”
Liberia’s 14-year civil war ended in 2004, and the country still lacks running water and electricity, along with enough physicians and medical supplies.
Ebola has infected a handful of Americans who have traveled to West Africa, including Dr. Kent Brantly, who did his residency at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. Brantly, who survived, was doing missionary work in Liberia when he was infected.
The National Institutes of Health recently admitted an American doctor exposed to the virus while volunteering in Sierra Leone. Four other patients have been treated at hospitals in Georgia and Nebraska.
Ebola was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is spread by personal contact and the use of contaminated needles and syringes in hospitals and clinics, according to the CDC.
Staff writers Susan Schrock and Andrea Ahles contributed to this report.