Up to 18 Exposed to Dallas Ebola Patient, Including 5 School Children

Thomas Eric Duncan sought treatment at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas on Friday when he started noticing he felt sick, but staff were unable to diagnose his illness as Ebola and sent the man home with some antibiotics.   After two days, his symptoms worsened and he was taken by ambulance back to the hospital — where he would eventually become the first reported case of Ebola since the outbreak began ravaging West Africa this year.

The hospital missed the opportunity that could have prevented many others from being exposed to the virus.   Thomas Eric Duncan was admitted to the same hospital on Sunday, where he was in serious condition and found to have the Ebola virus.   Because the hospital did not diagnose him two days prior with Ebola, Mr. Duncan was released thinking he had a simple cold or flu.   Instead he was spreading the Ebola virus everywhere he went.

Health experts are observing up to 18 people, including five children who attend four different schools in the area, who had contact with Mr. Duncan during the period he was contagious.

“The students did not have any symptoms and so the odds of them passing on any sort of virus is very low,” Mike Miles, Dallas Independent School District superintendent, told a news conference.   However just as Mr. Duncan was able to fly from West Africa with the virus…undetected, and went to the hospital where they too didn’t detect the virus and sent him home to infect more people, it is hard to have confidence in the obvious failed systems here to protect us from such outbreaks.

Miles said the five had been in school since then but were now at home. He said the schools would be staffed with additional health professionals and classes would remain in session.

Texas officials said health workers who took care of the patient had so far tested negative for the virus and there were no other suspected cases in the state. Texas Governor Rick Perry told a news conference he was confident the virus would be contained, as did other officials.

“People can be confident here in this country that we have the medical infrastructure in place to prevent the broad spread of Ebola,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on CNN.

Anyone who might have had contact with the patient will be closely monitored for the next 21 days, the time it can take for symptoms to appear.

“We have a seven-person team in Dallas today helping to review that with the family and make sure we identify everyone that could have had contact with him,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in an interview with NBC TV’s “Today” show.

Ebola spreads through contact with bodily fluids like blood or saliva, which health experts say limits its potential to infect others, unlike airborne diseases. Still, the long window of time before patients exhibit signs of infection, such as fever, vomiting and diarrhea, means an infected person can travel without detection.

While past outbreaks killed as many as 90 percent of victims, the current epidemic’s fatality rate has averaged about 50 percent in West Africa.

The patient in the United States arrived in Texas on Sept. 20, and first sought treatment six days later, according to the CDC. The Liberian government said that the man showed no signs of fever or other symptoms of Ebola when he left Liberia on Sept. 19.   A Liberian official said the man traveled through Brussels to the United States.

Several leading U.S. airlines said they were in close contact with federal health officials about Ebola-related travel concerns.

On Wednesday, officials repeated a call to healthcare workers to be vigilant in screening patients in the United States for possible signs of the virus.

“If you have someone who’s been in West Africa in the past 21 days and they have a fever or other symptoms that might be consistent with Ebola, immediately isolate them, get them tested,” Frieden told NBC.

Meanwhile, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, the first public health expert to lead the institution, said fighting Ebola means confronting inequality, as people in poor countries have less access to knowledge and infrastructure for treating the sick and containing it.