The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed Tuesday the first diagnosis of Ebola in the United States. The male patient began exhibiting symptoms of the disease on Sept. 24, four days after returning to the United States from Liberia, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a press conference Tuesday evening.
The patient, whose name has not been released, has been isolated and is undergoing treatment at Texas Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. The city of Dallas announced late on Tuesday that they have activated their Emergency Operations Center to a status of Level 2: High Readiness.No more than a “handful” of people are probably at risk, Frieden said, with exposure likely limited to the family members and few members of the community who may have been exposed to the deadly virus. The CDC is currently conducting an investigation to discover any possible contacts the patient may have made, and officials are confident they will contain the virus, Frieden said.
“I have no doubt that we will stop this in its tracks in the U.S.,” he said, noting that the CDC does not believe there is any risk to anyone who was on the patient’s flight from Liberia.
Dr. Frieden said the patient was visiting family in the U.S., but did not confirm whether or not he is an American citizen. Hospital officials at Texas Presbyterian in a separate press conference said they believed that Liberia was where the man lives and works.
Ebola, which has a fatality rate of about 50%, is not contagious until symptoms of hemorrhagic fever present – in this case, several days after the patient arrived in the U.S. Frieden acknowledged, however, that “it is certainly possible that someone who had contact with this individual could develop Ebola within the coming weeks.”
All three members of the ambulance crew who transported the sick patient tested negative for Ebola on Wednesday, according to the Twitter account of the City of Dallas.
CDC officials said they have had plans in place to isolate and treat any Ebola patients in the U.S., and are well-prepared to deal with any crisis. A team of CDC experts and epidemiologists are currently en route to Texas.
The health agency plans to monitor all people who may have contacted the patient for 21 days after exposure to see if they develop fever, Frieden said. If they do, the CDC would isolate them, treat them, and work to minimize the chance of the virus spreading.
White House officials said Frieden had briefed President Obama on the situation Tuesday.
Officials at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital said in a statement Monday that they had admitted a patient exhibiting symptoms of the disease into “strict isolation” for evaluation, based on his recent travel history. According to the CDC, the Ebola patient sought care on Sept. 26 and was admitted to the hospital on Sept. 28 and placed in isolation.
Hospital officials said in a press conference Tuesday that neither they nor anyone else have supplies of ZMapp, the experimental Ebola treatment that is credited with helping cure two health workers who contracted the virus while working in Liberia. But they emphasized that unless somebody had direct contact with the patient’s blood or body fluids after he began exhibiting symptoms, “there is really no [risk of] exposure.”
The Texas Department of State Health Services also confirmed the Ebola diagnosis. “The patient is an adult with a recent history of travel to West Africa,” the department said in a statement Tuesday. “The patient developed symptoms days after returning to Texas from West Africa and was admitted into isolation on Sunday at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.”
News of the first homegrown Ebola case on U.S. soil comes exactly two weeks after President Obama unveiled a large-scale military effort to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The Pentagon announced Tuesday that about 150 personnel from the Department of Defense and USAID are now on the ground in Liberia, where they will soon be joined by more than 3,000 military troops in a mission that could cost as much as $1 billion.
The commander-in-chief last week labeled the Ebola outbreak a “security threat” to the U.S. and called on the international community to step up its response.
“Nobody’s that isolated anymore,” warned Obama. “Oceans don’t protect you; walls don’t protect you. And that means all of us as nations and as an international community need to do more to keep our people safe.”
Ebola has killed more than 3,000 people in West Africa, according to the World Health Organization. Thousands more cases have either been confirmed or are suspected.
The total number of Ebola cases could be much higher, however. According to the CDC, for every one reported case of Ebola, there are an additional 1.5 that go undiagnosed.
The CDC said last week that if action isn’t taken to stop the spread of the deadly virus, there could be as many as 1.4 million cases by the end of January in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Hospitals in Georgia, Nebraska and Washington, D.C. have treated a handful of patients who contracted Ebola in West Africa, but Tuesday marks the first time a patient has been diagnosed with the disease on American soil. Last week, Dr. Rick Sacra, the third U.S. aid worker to be stricken with Ebola, was released from Nebraska Medical Center, disease-free.
“Ebola is spread through direct contact with blood, secretions or other bodily fluids or exposure to contaminated objects, such as needles,” the Texas Department of Health Services cautioned in its statement Tuesday. “Ebola is not contagious until symptoms appear.”
“The CDC recommends that individuals protect themselves by avoiding contact with the blood and body fluids of people who are ill with Ebola. DSHS also encourages health care providers to ask patients about recent travel and consider Ebola in patients with fever and a history of travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, and some parts of Nigeria within 21 days of the onset of symptoms. “
This is a developing story. Check back for further updates.