Health & Fitness

Ebola patient’s family moved as apartment is decontaminated

Texas health officials said Friday that they have identified 10 people who are considered to have had “high-risk” contact with the Liberian man with Ebola who is hospitalized in Dallas.

The list of possible contacts with Thomas Eric Duncan, who was admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Sunday, has been reduced by half — from 100 to 50 — since Thursday, said David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The 10 high-risk contacts include the four family members with whom Duncan had shared an apartment in recent weeks and medical workers who came in contact with him.

None has shown any symptoms of the deadly virus.

“All of these individuals are doing well,” Lakey said. “Having said that, we need to continue to watch them very closely.”

Louise Troh, originally from Liberia, shared the apartment with her 13-year-old son and two nephews. They were moved Friday to a private residence in a gated community that was offered by a volunteer, The Associated Press reported.

Neighbors stood on their balconies and watched the family’s grim departure from behind a black tarp hung to shield their front door from view.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins personally escorted the family out of the apartment Friday afternoon, wearing no protective gear in an effort to show the public that the family is healthy and there is no reason for concern, WFAA.com reported.

The residence where they will stay had been offered only a short time earlier. Until then, a search for shelter had come up short. The city had been refused by hotels, apartments and other providers, said Sana Syed, a Dallas city spokeswoman.

“No one wants this family,” Syed said.

Syed said it was fortunate that someone came forward to donate a temporary home for the family, helping ease their pain and provide them with some privacy.

The family has been confined to their home under armed guard while public-health officials monitor them — part of an intense effort to contain the deadly disease before it can get a foothold in the United States.

At a news conference Friday evening, Dallas City Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates said rocks had been thrown through a window at the complex and three people who live at the complex were fired by their employers because of where they live.

After the press conference, Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zachary Thompson attributed the behavior to a lack of information and rumors.

“The stigma associated with the disease may have caused some people to not be as friendly as they normally might have been,” Thompson said.

Cleanup crew from Fort Worth

The crew decontaminating the apartment is based in Fort Worth.

“Our company is doing the initial cleanup of the soiled items,” said Brad Smith, vice president of Cleaning Guys. “We’re bagging and removing items from the apartment.”

The crew’s protective suits were to be burned after the job is complete, said Tamara Smith, the company’s business manager.

The cleanup had been delayed for several days as Dallas County sought proper permits to store waste that might contain the Ebola virus. The county still hasn’t received permits to dispose of the waste. For now, the items in industrial barrels will be held under law enforcement protection at an undisclosed storage facility in the county.

Friday morning, Jenkins said the initial cleanup was expected to take about three hours. But officials later say the complete cleanup will take days, WFAA.com reported.

When the cleaning crew entered the apartment, they learned that Duncan had slept on every mattress in the apartment during his time there, raising further questions about just how much the family was exposed to the Ebola virus and why it took so long to get a cleaning crew into the residence.

Considering criminal charges

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said Friday that he is contemplating whether criminal charges are warranted against Duncan.

Officials in Liberia have already said they plan to prosecute Duncan, who is suspected of lying on his airport screening questionnaire about whether he had come into contact with a person infected with Ebola.

“We are looking at it from two standpoints,” Watkins said. “Ultimately, it may be a federal issue since he filled out forms and certain affidavits. But once he got on the plane, did he knowingly or intentionally expose the citizens of Dallas County to a deadly virus?”

Dallas County has prosecuted people previously for exposing individuals to the HIV virus. If they choose to go forward, Watkins said they will likely pursue an aggravated assault charge.

The DA’s office hasn’t discussed the issue with federal officials and Watkins also said they would have to weigh the risks of having someone who had the Ebola virus in the county jail.

“We have to be very careful,” Watkins said. “This is a delicate matter. This man may be on his death bed. … This is just the beginning of it. In fact, we literally just started talking about it yesterday.”

Duncan arrived in North Texas on Sept. 20 and fell ill a few days later. After an initial visit to the emergency room at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, he was sent home, even though he told a nurse he had been in West Africa.

He returned to the hospital on Sunday, and has been kept in isolation ever since. He’s listed in serious but stable condition.

Schools get special scanners

At the Dallas schools attended by students who came in contact with Duncan, officials are deploying electronic scanners.

Fever-screening monitors will be set up Monday morning in the nursing stations of the five schools under watch, a school district spokesman said. The scanners will check for fever any children who become ill and are sent to the school nurses.

They are on loan to the district from Dallas-based Wello Inc. and will enable nurses to screen students for fevers without touching them, eliminating the risk of spreading illness or disease.

The scanners are expected to remain in place for several weeks.

This report includes material from The Associated Press and WFAA.com.

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