The first patient diagnosed with the deadly Ebola virus in the United States remains in isolation at a Dallas hospital as federal and state health officials retrace his steps to identify each person he had contact with since his symptoms first appeared.
The man, whose identity has not been released, became the first recorded case of the illness to occur in the U.S. when his lab results were confirmed Tuesday at a Texas Department of State Health Services lab in Austin — more than a week after he arrived in Dallas on a flight from the African nation of Liberia.
He landed in Dallas on Sept. 20 to visit family, four days before he began showing signs of the sickness that has killed thousands of people in Africa.
Public health authorities wouldn’t release more details about where and how he spent his time in Texas because of their ongoing investigation.
Public health and infection control experts worked to quell fears of an outbreak Tuesday, however.
They noted Ebola is not spread through the air, but only by direct contact with the bodily fluids of a person already showing hallmarks of the illness, such as fever, weakness, diarrhea and vomiting.
“We have no other suspected cases in the state of Texas at this time,” Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said during a conference call with reporters.
The patient, now in intensive care at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, is expected to remain in Texas during his treatment, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC dispatched a team of experts Tuesday to assist state and Dallas County public health officials with the investigation.
“We don’t see a need from either a medical or an infection control standpoint to try to move the patient,” Frieden said.
“I have no doubt that we’ll stop this in its tracks in the U.S.,” he said of the Ebola virus. “I also have no doubt that as long as the outbreak continues in Africa, we need to be on our guard.”
Officials would not disclose the patient’s age, whether he is an American citizen, what symptoms he’s showing or how he will be treated.
They acknowledged he’s critically ill and said he has only been around “a handful” of people since he arrived in the States — mostly family members and possibly one to three people not related to him.
The man left Liberia on a flight Sept. 19 and didn’t show any symptoms of the Ebola virus at that time, Frieden said.
According to a CDC statement, he arrived in the United States the following day, then became ill Sept. 24.
Authorities did not disclose his exact route.
The man first sought medical care Sept. 26 at Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas — where he was admitted during a second visit Sept. 28, the CDC news release said.
Authorities noted Tuesday that the initial symptoms of Ebola often are nonspecific, meaning they could be attributed to many other illnesses or ailments.
His Ebola diagnosis was confirmed around 1:20 p.m. CST Tuesday by a state public health lab.
The positive diagnosis came just one month after that lab was certified to do Ebola testing, Lakey said.
The Dallas hospital caring for the patient had planned some time ago for the possibility of receiving a patient suffering from the Ebola virus, said Dr. Edward Goodman, an epidemiologist at the facility.
“In the week before this patient presented, we had a meeting of all the stakeholders that might be involved in the care of such a patient,” Goodman said. “And because of that, we were well prepared to deal with this crisis.”
The Ebola virus has a typical incubation period of eight to 10 days once a person is exposed to it, but some have become sick as quickly as two days after exposure or as long as 21 days afterward, Frieden said.
There’s no need for San Antonio residents to panic about the possibility of infection or to avoid traveling to Dallas, the city’s Metropolitan Health District says.
“The risk of anybody getting Ebola is minimal to zero at this point,” said Anil Mangla, assistant director of health for the San Antonio public health agency.
Public health officials will make sure each person who was around the patient at any point once he became sick is monitored closely on a daily basis for 21 days. If any develop a fever or other symptoms, they will immediately be isolated to prevent the illness from spreading.
“That is very different from Africa where they do not have that infrastructure,” Mangla said of such procedures. “Over here, we are prepared if something comes up. We’ll make sure that we follow the proper public health procedures. And that’s exactly what they’ve done in Dallas.”
The Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council has been working to develop plans to implement in case of Ebola, including protecting EMS workers and notifying the public.
“If there is something that comes up, Metro Health will send out the proper guidance to make sure the population in our community is informed of what the next steps are,” Mangla said.
Authorities don’t believe anyone else on the flight from Liberia was exposed to the illness since he didn’t begin showing symptoms until four days later. They sidestepped questions about whether he was on a commercial flight.
“Ebola doesn’t spread before someone gets sick,” Frieden said. “And he didn’t get sick until four days after he got off the airplane. So we do not believe there is any risk to anyone who was on the flight at that time.”
State health officials are working closely with their federal counterparts, and Gov. Rick Perry spoke with the director of the CDC on Tuesday. Perry planned to visit Dallas today.
Staff Writers Jessica Belasco and Peggy Fikac contributed to this report.