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First US Ebola patient dies

Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, has died.

Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, has died, a spokesperson for the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital said Wednesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed Duncan’s case eight days ago, saying he had begun exhibiting symptoms of the disease on Sept. 24. The 42-year-old Liberian resident arrived in Dallas on Sept. 20 to visit family, days after he assisted a pregnant neighbor who later died of Ebola.

As of Tuesday, Duncan was in critical but stable condition. His fiancée, Louise Troh, released a statement Wednesday saying, "Eric was a wonderful man who showed compassion toward all."

"The past week has been an enormous test of our health system, but for one family it has been far more personal,” Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of Texas Department of State Health Services, said in a statement. “Today they lost a dear member of their family. They have our sincere condolences, and we are keeping them in our thoughts. The doctors, nurses and staff at Presbyterian provided excellent and compassionate care, but Ebola is a disease that attacks the body in many ways. We'll continue every effort to contain the spread of the virus and protect people from this threat."

Ebola is a serious virus that has so far claimed the lives of more than 3,400 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The U.S. is sending up to 4,000 military personnel to West Africa as part of a mission to stop the disease’s deadly march.

Five Americans have contracted Ebola while working in West Africa, whereupon they were promptly brought back to the U.S. for treatment. No American has died of the disease yet. Duncan’s was the first case diagnosed on U.S. soil.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said he was “deeply saddened” to learn of Duncan’s passing.

“We appreciate the dedicated service of the emergency and medical personnel who worked diligently to care for him,” he said in a statement. “On behalf of the city of Dallas, I extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Mr. Duncan. I remain confident in the abilities of our health care professionals and the medical advances here in the U.S. and reassure you we will stop the Ebola virus in its tracks from spreading into our community. I want to reinforce to the public, that this was an isolated incident of the Ebola virus; contracted by the individual while residing in another country. This is sad news for all involved. We will continue to work in partnership with Dallas County to do everything possible to protect our public health and all of the City of Dallas."

CDC Director Tom Frieden has said repeatedly that health officials know how to stop Ebola through meticulous monitoring and diligent contact tracing. In Dallas, Frieden said Tuesday that there were “10 definite and 38 possible contacts being monitored” for Ebola. No one else in Dallas has developed symptoms.

Both Duncan’s care and U.S. preparedness to handle the disease were called into question after the public learned that Duncan had initially been sent home with antibiotics when he first sought treatment for a fever and abdominal pain. Two days later, he was admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian and tested positive for Ebola.

The hospital said that when Duncan mentioned to nurses that he had traveled from Africa, physicians weren’t immediately aware of the fact because the electronic health records had different nursing and physician sections. The hospital has since included a travel section in both workflows. Health officials have called the incident a wake-up call for all hospitals in the U.S. to take travel histories very seriously.

On Wednesday, an administration official told NBC News that travelers from West Africa would be subjected to additional screening at five U.S. airports: Atlanta, Newark, JFK, Dulles, and O'Hare. These passengers will have to fill out a questionnaire and have their temperatures taken. A fever is often the first sign of Ebola but it could also signify other ailments, like Malaria.