U.S. public health officials said Saturday it would take at least a month to eliminate the risk of Ebola exposure caused by a Liberian patient in critical condition with the first U.S. case of the deadly virus.
Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Saturday that although the incubation period for Ebola is 21 days, officials usually wait twice as long before declaring that the risk has passed.
The U.S. Ebola event will not end until 42 days from the last day of exposure, he said, which would be when Thomas Eric Duncan was placed in isolation at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas on Sept. 28.
Meanwhile, the report of a passenger vomiting on a United Airlines flight from Brussels to New Jersey on Saturday prompted a response by local health officials and the CDC. The man, who had traveled from West Africa, does not have Ebola, officials said Saturday evening, several hours after a CDC quarantine officer was sent to investigate.
The flight included Liberian passengers; a father and daughter were transferred to University Hospital in Newark, N.J., after the CDC was called to Newark Liberty International Airport.
The CDC has had 100 consultations with state and local health departments and health care providers regarding possible Ebola cases, Frieden said. Only 15 warranted testing. Frieden said his team alerted him in advance about Duncan's case because of "the severity of his symptoms." He said none of the others had risen to that level yet, saying "the risk was far, far lower."
In Dallas, hospital officials said Saturday that Duncan's condition had worsened from serious to critical.
Officials have screened 114 people and were monitoring about 50 who may have had contact with Duncan. Nine were considered at high risk of exposure, including health care workers.
The CDC's Frieden said stopping airline flights from West Africa would not prevent such cases, and could backfire: Senegal's recent halt of flights to Liberia delayed the arrival of health care workers.
Frieden said "nothing that we would have done in Liberia or the U.S. would have changed the course of the current situation," yet officials have called for U.S. healthcare workers to better document a patient's travel history.
Texas Presbyterian Hospital said Friday that doctors handling Duncan's case initially turned him away from the hospital despite having been told he had recently arrived from Africa. The hospital previously said emergency room doctors treating Duncan were not aware that he had traveled from Africa, even though a nurse who questioned him had documented that fact.
Hospital officials initially blamed the miscommunication on a flaw in the electronic medical record system.
Duncan first visited the hospital Sept. 25 with a temperature of 100.1 degrees, abdominal pain, a headache and trouble urinating, according to the hospital. A nurse asked Duncan whether he had traveled during the previous four weeks, and he said he had been in Africa.
The nurse recorded that information in Duncan's electronic medical record; the hospital initially said doctors who treated him used a separate record that did not include the travel history. Duncan was sent home with a prescription for antibiotics, relatives said.
On Sept. 28, Duncan returned to the hospital by ambulance and was placed in isolation. Two days later, he tested positive for Ebola.
(Hennessy-Fiske reported from Dallas and Queally from Los Angeles. Staff writer John M. Glionna contributed to this report.)
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