Ebola ruled out in DC case; health officials checking Dallas patient’s contacts

Medical officials in the nation’s capital have “ruled out” the possibility that a patient who had traveled to Nigeria was infected with the Ebola virus.

The likelihood that a second case of the deadly disease had surfaced at the Howard University Hospital, and beyond Dallas where the only confirmed instance of Ebola has so far been found, set off alarm bells yesterday among local and national health officials.

In a statement Saturday, hospital spokesperson Kerry-Ann Hamilton said, “In keeping with infection control protocols and in an abundance of caution, our medical team remains ever vigilant and takes proactive steps to quickly identify, isolate and screen any individual who presents with signs or symptoms of communicable diseases.”

Meanwhile, the top official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Saturday that health officials have assessed 114 possible contacts with the Ebola patient in Dallas, Thomas Eric Duncan, and narrowed those down to nine people who are “definite contacts” at high risk of contracting the virus.

These include Duncan’s family members and health care workers who treated him. Another 46 other possible contacts with Duncan are also being monitored. They include patients who may have ridden in the ambulance after it transported him to the hospital.

So far, none of the high-risk individuals and 45 of the 46 possible contacts have shown symptoms of Ebola infection, according to Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC. In a conference call with the news media, Frieden said that health officials were unable to reach one of the individuals, but that all will be monitored for 21 days by local health officials.

The Dallas situation has heightened awareness of the importance for caregivers to check the travel history of patients who show signs of Ebola. Frieden said. The CDC has fielded more more than 100 inquiries about possible Ebola patients, but only Duncan has tested positive thus far.

As calls increase to strengthen travel restrictions involving West African nations where the Ebola outbreak is centered, Frieden said the CDC will take a “hard look” at all suggestions and is open to implementing additional safeguards, if warranted. But he emphasized that travel restrictions would make it harder to get supplies and volunteer health workers into the African countries where they’re needed.

He cited an incident in which health workers from the African Union were unable to get into West Africa for a week because they were held up in Senegal, which had imposed travel restrictions on the area.

“That action ended up making it harder to stop the outbreak in Liberia and elsewhere,” Frieden said.