Health Officials Tracking Down Ebola Patient's Contacts in Dallas

Posted on October 1, 2014

CDC Contact Tracing infographic

The very first U.S. case of Ebola was confirmed yesterday by the CDC. The patient is currently in isolation in a Dallas hospital. The patient's name has not been identified. The government will not even release information about the plane he flew in on. It is known that the patient is male. He is from Liberia so it is suspected his plane took off from Monrovia.

The Ebola virus is currently spreading out of control in Liberia and two other countries in West Africa, Sierra Leone and Guinea. There have been at least 3,000 deaths from Ebola in these countries according to the World Health Organization, but this figure is only thought to be a portion of the cases. The larger the number of cases gets in Africa the more likely the disease is going to be imported into other countries from people traveling by plane. The CDC estimated earlier this month that the number of cases in West Africa could hit 1.4 million cases by January 20th in a worst-case scenario. There will likely be many many more incidents like the one in Dallas if this worst-case scenario materializes.

Now that Ebola is here in the U.S. Dallas County and CDC officials have to track down all the contacts the patient may have had. This is a process known as contract tracing. The CDC has an infographic about contact tracing here. The graphic warns "even one missed contact can keep the outbreak going."

The man arrived in the U.S. on September 20th. He first began having symptoms on September 24th. The CDC says the man was not symptomatic on the plane and therefore not contagious to the other travelers on the plane. The man sought medical care on September 26th - from Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas (where he is currently being treated) - but was not identified as having Ebola and was sent home with antibiotics. The patient returned to the hospital on September 28th by ambulance. These leaves four days where authorities and health workers have to determine exactly where the Ebola patient was and who he had contact with.

The Dallas Fire-Rescue paramedics who took the man to the hospital are already under surveillance and will be monitored for 21 days. 21 days is the maximum known incubation period for the virus. The ambulance is no longer being used and has been covered in red tape. The ambulance had been used for two days after taking the patient to the hospital, but it reportedly was sufficiently decontaminated.

Dallas city spokeswoman Sana Syed told CNN, "I do want to stress that the paramedics followed national standards, as they do after each transport, in decontaminating the ambulance. The Dallas County health department has confirmed that paramedics did follow proper guidelines to avoid contaminating additional patients."

Other contacts that will be interviewed and monitored for the 21 day period include the patient's family members. He has a wife and likely other relatives in the city. The monitored group will also include any physicians and nurses who treated him. The man also has a close friend that could be the most likely person to contract the virus. Dallas County Health and Human Services Zachary Thompson seems concerned about this person in an interview with WFAA. In the interview, Thompson already says there may already be "another case."

Thompson says, "Let me be real frank to the Dallas County residents, the fact that we have one confirmed case, there may be another case that is a close associate with this particular patient... So this is real. There should be a concern, but it's contained to the specific family members and close friends at this moment."

The WFAA story also says the man was in contact with "several children" who will also need to be monitored for signs of Ebola. The number of monitored people could become quite large if the man went a lot of places while he was sick. He required an ambulance to get back to the hospital on September 28th so he probably wasn't very mobile on that day.

A fever would be the first sign one of the people being monitored has contracted the virus. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains the process in this video. Dr. Gupta says shaking hands with the Ebola patient would be enough to require a person to be added to the list of monitored individuals. Take a look:



Image: CDC