UPDATED Ebola Reaches Texas: CDC Officials Confirm First U.S. Case in Dallas

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Transmission electron micrograph of the Ebola virus

Update: 2:35 p.m. October 1 Update: On Wednesday afternoon Gov. Rick Perry announced that five children who attend Dallas schools had contact with the Dallas Ebola patient and are being monitored at home for any signs of the disease.

However, Perry used the press conference held at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital to caution Texans to stay calm. "The disease cannot be transmitted before having any symptoms," he said. "This is a disease that is not airborne and is substantially more difficult to contract than the common cold."

Plus, he noted, Texas is ready to handle this. "There are few places in the world better equipped to meet the challenge that is posed by this case," he said. "Professionals on every level of the chain of command know what to do to minimize this potential risk to the people of Texas and to this country for that matter."

Original story: On Tuesday afternoon, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health workers announced that Texas is home to the first case of Ebola confirmed in the United States.

At a news conference in Atlanta CDC director Tom Frieden downplayed widespread fears that the disease, which has already infected some 6,500 and killed over 3,000 people in West Africa, could reach epidemic levels in this country. The patient, who has not been identified, traveled from Liberia to visit family in Dallas earlier this month, officials confirmed. The man boarded a flight to the United States September 19, landed September 20, and first started to develop symptoms around the 24th, Frieden said.

The man was apparently first taken to Dallas' Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on September 26, but he was sent home with antibiotics. "[H]e returned in an ambulance to Texas Health Presbyterian two days later and was admitted," Bloomberg reports. He's now in intensive care at Dallas' Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, according to officials, who say they're working to track down and monitor anyone who had close contact with the man.

As news continues to break on the first confirmed Ebola case in the country, here are a few things you might want to know.

This wasn't exactly unexpected.

As the Ebola outbreak in West Africa continued to spread over the summer and the body-count climbed, health officials here have been planning and warning for weeks that at least a few Ebola cases could pop up in the United States. "It was inevitable once the outbreak exploded," UTMB at Galveston professor Thomas Geisbert, who has studied Ebola for decades, told the Washington Post. "Unless you were going to shut down airports and keep people from leaving [West Africa], it's hard to stop anybody from getting on a plane."

Doctors and officials in Houston have been brainstorming how to protect the Texas Medical Center from the outbreak since at least August. Among the recommended steps at some hospitals: require any staff who have traveled to West African countries hit by Ebola to stay away from patients for 21 days after they return to Houston, a so-called "reverse quarantine."

The guy didn't transmit Ebola to anyone on his flight.

Many Americans are understandably wary about air travel to and from Africa since the Ebola outbreak. Given that Dallas and Houston are major airport hubs - and that Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport saw some 71,000 passengers traveling nonstop from Africa last year - some in Texas were worried long before this Dallas case was even confirmed.

But Frieden with the CDC says there's "zero risk" the Dallas Ebola patient transmitted the disease to anyone else aboard his flight. Ebola patients aren't infectious until they actually start to show symptoms of the disease - unfortunately, they're pretty nondescript symptoms, like fever, headache, muscle pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. The disease is transmitted through bodily fluids.

Frieden says the patient was screened for fever before he boarded his flight in Liberia and wasn't yet showing symptoms. The patient didn't start showing signs of the disease until about four days after he'd landed. So CDC and other state and local health officials are now tracking down everyone who may have had contact with the man while he was contagious, a process called "contact tracing."

Frieden says the CDC suspects only a "handful" of people might have been exposed - the man's family in Dallas and a few other community members. Health officials will monitor those people for at least 21 days to see if they contracted the disease.

Will there be more U.S. cases?

That's anybody's guess at this point. But CDC officials say they're confident the disease won't spread widely in this country as it has in West Africa. Frieden and other health officials insist the situation here is radically different than in the heart of the outbreak, where health workers don't have enough resources and lack the equipment to tackle the disease.

"Bottom line here is that I have no doubt that we will control this case of Ebola so that it does not spread widely in this country," Frieden vowed during his press conference. "We're stopping it in its tracks."


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