A New York City doctor has tested positive for Ebola after returning from work in West Africa with an aid agency, the first case of the deadly disease diagnosed in the most populous U.S. city.
The doctor, Craig Spencer, 33, is being treated in an isolation unit at Bellevue Hospital Center.
The diagnosis was made by the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene and announced by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio at a news conference. Samples of Spencer’s blood will be sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for confirmation, the CDC said.
A CDC team will help health workers at Bellevue safely care for him while trying to track down anybody he may have had close contact with while he was sick.
“We have a team that’s readying to deploy to New York,” said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the CDC. “It’s composed of epidemiologists, infection control, data management, and communications officers.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said health officials have been preparing for an Ebola case to turn up in the state.
“We are as ready as one can be for this circumstance,” Cuomo said. “New York is a dense place, a lot of people on top of each other, but the more you know, the less frightening it is.”
Spencer, a fellow in international emergency medicine at Columbia University-New York Presbyterian Hospital, according to a LinkedIn profile, returned to New York this month from Guinea after working there with Doctors Without Borders, the aid organization fighting the outbreak raging in West Africa. He hasn’t been working with patients at the hospital since returning, New York Presbyterian said in a statement.
Bellevue, an 828-bed hospital, has been designated as one of four facilities for Ebola treatment in New York, a city of 8.4 million residents. It has four single-bed rooms in its infectious-disease ward to receive high-probability or confirmed cases and a laboratory to handle blood samples, according to New York City Health and Hospitals Corp.
Mount Sinai Hospital and New York Presbyterian in Manhattan, and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, are the other New York City facilities for patients. Four others are on Long Island and in Syracuse and Rochester.
Spencer was brought to Bellevue in a special ambulance after developing a fever and gastrointestinal symptoms earlier today, said the New York City health department and Doctors Without Borders.
“The individual engaged in regular health monitoring and reported this development immediately,” Tim Shenk, a Doctors Without Borders spokesman, said by e-mail.
Cuomo said health authorities believe four people had contact with Spencer during the “relevant period” while he may have exposed others to the infection.
The four are Spencer’s fiancee, two friends, and an Uber car service driver who had Spencer as a passenger, New York City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said. The fiance and friends are healthy and under quarantine, she said. The Uber driver had no direct physical contact and isn’t considered at risk, she said.
Spencer was identified by a New York City official who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter. A person with the same name on Facebook posted a picture on Sept. 18, saying he was going to Guinea with Doctors Without Borders.
“Please support organizations that are sending support or personnel to West Africa, and help combat one of the worst public health and humanitarian disasters in recent history,” read the caption of a photo showing a man wearing a protective gown, face shield, eye mask and gloves.
The man next posted on Oct. 16 from a hotel in Brussels. On LinkedIn, Spencer said he has worked at New York Presbyterian since July 2011.
The West Africa outbreak has infected about 10,000 people, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, killing half, according to the World Health Organization.
New York state officials said they’d been planning for an Ebola patient for months and in recent weeks ordered hospitals to go through practice drills and enhance safety protocols.
There’s no approved cure for Ebola in the U.S., though some patients have received experimental drugs. The current standard of care involves supporting patients by replacing fluids and electrolytes, and using antibiotics to fight off any opportunistic infections.
Early symptoms can be similar to those of malaria such as fever and chills. Ebola also causes headache, stomach pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, and bleeding. During later stages, patients can lose many liters of bodily fluid each day. The virus spreads through direct contact with a victim.
Patients are most infectious at late stages when large quantities of the virus are present inside the body. This explains why health-care workers and relatives tending to the gravely ill are most at risk of infection.
Two nurses in Dallas were infected at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital while caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, the first man to die of the virus in the U.S. One of the nurses, Amber Vinson, 29, is now free of the virus. She is being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. The other nurse, Nina Pham, 26, is in good condition at a National Institutes of Health medical center in Maryland.
“There is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed, Ebola is an extremely hard disease to contract,” de Blasio said at the news conference. “New Yorkers who haven’t been exposed to an infected person’s bodily fluids aren’t at all at risk.”
Yesterday, the CDC said anyone traveling to the U.S. from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea would be monitored for 21 days, the maximum incubation period for the virus. Travelers leaving the countries are already checked at the airport before boarding a plane, and about 36,000 people have been screened.
Despite strict safety measures by Doctors Without Borders, 14 of their staff members have been infected with Ebola and eight have died since March, the organization said Sept. 24. The greatest risk is believed to be when they are out in the community rather than when working with patients, the group said.
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