DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – As the CDC continues to track down the people who had contact with Thomas Duncan, America’s first diagnosed case of Ebola, the health agency has identified 10 people as “high risk.”
The CDC has made contact with about 100 people that had possible contact with Duncan, and has now whittled down the list of people it needs to monitor daily to 50. Of those, 10 individuals who had the closest contact with Duncan have been classified as “high risk.”
The CDC says none of the people under observation is sick at this time. But the agency will continue to monitor all 50 of them for the full 21-day incubation period of the virus. Daily monitoring includes a temperature reading twice a day. A public health worker will also offer education about the virus and ask about symptoms.
“We have cast a wide net, and we have decided on a group of people that we have a very low bar for deciding to follow,” said Dr. Beth Bell from the CDC, during the agency’s daily conference call about the Ebola situation in Dallas. She says the agency has a very “low level of concern about the vast majority of these people.”
On the list are people within the community and health care workers who came into contact with Duncan or any of his bodily fluids.
While no one is currently showing any symptoms of the disease, Bell cautioned the close monitoring is important because, “there certainly is a possibility that some of the people who have already been in very close contact with the patient might develop Ebola.”
Texas Commissioner of Health, Dr. David Lakey, would not release a specific numeric breakdown of the individuals, other than saying three of the 50 individuals are EMT workers. Some of the individuals are those who didn’t have face to face contact with Duncan, but handled his blood for lab work at the hospital. The others are people who had contact with Duncan in the community.
“There’s the health care workers that directly (saw) the individual on the first night on Friday when he came in, anyone that was in the emergency room, anyone that was drawing blood, anyone that was processing blood,” explained Lakey. “So we throw a very broad net, so we can make sure we don’t miss anybody.”
The health care workers classified as “high risk” have been furloughed from work with pay. They are not allowed to travel outside the city, and will be visited once a day by a health care official. Those who are not high risk have no travel restrictions and must check in once a day by phone.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said, “There is a plan in place if individuals do not adhere to these guidelines. We have law enforcement to go check on the individual to make sure they are OK if needed.” Jenkins also said there is a plan in place if anyone starts showing symptoms.
Meanwhile, a hazardous-materials crew arrived Friday morning at the Northeast Dallas apartment where Duncan stayed for several days to collect bed sheets and towels he used before he was hospitalized.
The family living in the apartment has been confined to their home under armed guard while public-health officials monitor them – part of an intense effort to contain the deadly disease before it can get a foothold in the United States.
Louise Troh, who shares the apartment with her 13-year-old son and two nephews, said she is tired of being quarantined and wants authorities to decontaminate her home.
“Who wants to be locked up?” she said Thursday. Private security guards and sheriff’s deputies blocked the entrance to the 300-unit apartment complex.
A cleanup crew hired by the county and state paid an initial visit to the apartment Thursday evening to assess the job. They returned around midday Friday to complete the work, which was expected to take about three hours.
The family living there will be allowed to remain in the apartment during the cleaning. Earlier, officials had said they would have to be moved.
Items from both the apartment and from the hospital where Thomas Duncan is being treated, will be placed in secure containers and removed for disposal.
The confinement order, which also bans visitors, was imposed after the family failed to comply with a request to stay home.
Jenkins said he went to the apartment with two epidemiologists to apologize for the delay in removing soiled items. He said officials are working to make sure the family is comfortable and to improve their accommodations.
“I am concerned for this family,” he said. “I want to see this family treated the way I would want to see my own family treated.”
The virus that causes Ebola is not airborne and can only be spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids – blood, sweat, vomit, feces, urine, saliva or semen – of an infected person who is showing symptoms. Those fluids must also have an entry point.
For example, people might get infected by handling soiled clothing or bed sheets and then touching their mouth, or if they are not wearing gloves while doing those tasks and have a cut on their hand.
Duncan’s neighbors in the Liberian capital believe he become infected when he helped a sick pregnant neighbor a few weeks ago. It was not clear if he had learned of the woman’s diagnosis before traveling.
Nonetheless, Liberian authorities announced plans to prosecute Duncan when he returns, accusing him of lying on an airport questionnaire about not having any contact with an infected person.
CDC Director Tom Frieden dismissed suggestions that people traveling from West Africa should not be allowed into the U.S.
“The fact is that if we tried to seal the border, it would not work because people are allowed to travel,” he said Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Blocking travel, he said, “would backfire because it would make it harder to stop the outbreak.”
Duncan arrived in Dallas on Sept. 20 and fell ill a few days later. An emergency room sent Duncan home last week, even though he told a nurse he had been in West Africa.
In a statement issued late Thursday, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital said it followed communicable disease protocols by asking Duncan if he had come into contact with anyone who was ill. He replied that he had not.
A flaw in the electronic health records systems led to separate physician and nursing workflows, meaning the travel history documented by nurses was not passed onto physicians, hospital spokesman Wendell Watson said. He said the system has been corrected.
Duncan’s symptoms included a 100.1 F temperature, abdominal pain, a headache and decreased urination, the hospital said. He said he had no nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Based on that, the hospital decided to release him.
He returned two days later and has been kept in isolation since Sunday. Duncan was listed Thursday in serious but stable condition.
(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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