On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control confirmed that the first case of the Ebola virus in the United States has been diagnosed in Texas.
Thomas Eric Duncan, the 42-year-old patient, flew into Dallas on Sept. 20 and began showing symptoms four or five days later. He is being treated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.
Ebola is a rare disease caused by infection. It has already killed over 3,300 people in West Africa according to the World Health Organization.
The University of Florida Health Shands Hospital is taking measures to ready doctors and staff for potential patients who display symptoms that could suggest the Ebola virus.
“UF Health teams have been working with the state epidemiologist at the Florida Department of Health,” said Rossana Passaniti, the media relations coordinator for the hospital. “They are preparing in case an individual presents with symptoms consistent with Ebola.”
Ebola symptoms include fever, muscle pain, bleeding and vomiting. The virus is spread through bodily fluids and blood.
Texas health officials are monitoring about 80 people who came in direct or indirect contact with Duncan for signs of the virus, according to the Associated Press.
The CDC has already been contacted by hospitals from 34 different states with concerns about potentially infected patients. UF Health Shands Hospital has had personnel conducting drills so that teams are prepared and properly trained in the use of protective equipment.
“If a patient in our clinics or emergency departments is suffering from symptoms consistent with Ebola, staff is trained in the use of protective gear and how to safely handle samples,” Passaniti said.
In the case of a suspected Ebola virus, UF Health does have a designated treatment team in place that would relocate patients to a restricted isolation ward to house them while awaiting lab results.
Despite the best preparations, the virus can easily slip past an unsuspecting doctor. The symptoms are consistent with other illnesses and may not surface for up to 21 days after exposure.
That is exactly what happened the first time Duncan went to the emergency room. He was given blood tests and sent home despite telling doctors he had been in Liberia. Doctors did not screen for Ebola until he returned to the hospital three days later.
“We have refreshed our information for hospitals with checklists and posters,” CDC Director, Dr. Tom Frieden said. “We recognize that it’s a challenge for hospitals because volume of patients seen may be high. We’re providing information that is clear and encourages good communication within the team.”
The CDC has been preparing for a case of Ebola in the U.S. according to a recent press release and has already taken measures such as recommendations for healthcare infection control and enhanced surveillance and laboratory testing capacity.
“Ebola can be scary. But there’s all the difference in the world between the U.S. and parts of Africa where Ebola is spreading,” Frieden said in a press release on Tuesday. “The United States has a strong health care system and public health professionals…I have no doubt that we will contain this.”
A team of federal health experts in Dallas is working with local officials to determine whom Duncan was in contact with. Officials stress that the virus is contained and is of minimal risk to the public and the rest of the country.
“We can minimize the risk, by working to ensure no more individuals are exposed than have already been exposed,” Frieden said. “Until the outbreak is controlled in west Africa, we won’t be able to get to that zero risk.”