Ebola Update: First U.S. Case Confirmed

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed today, through laboratory tests, the first case of Ebola to be diagnosed in the United States in a man who had traveled to Dallas, Texas, from Liberia

The Background

According to a release from the CDC, the patient did not have symptoms when leaving West Africa, but developed symptoms approximately four days after arriving in the U.S. on September 20. The person became ill on September 24 and sought medical care at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas on September 26. After developing symptoms consistent with Ebola, he was admitted to hospital on September 28. Based on the person’s travel history and symptoms, CDC recommended testing for Ebola. 

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The medical facility isolated the patient and sent specimens for testing at CDC and at a Texas lab participating in the CDC’s Laboratory Response Network. CDC and the Texas Health Department reported the laboratory test results to the medical center to inform the patient. A CDC team is being dispatched to Dallas to assist with the investigation.

The New York Times said that Freiden "declined to disclose flight information or to say whether the patient is an American citizen." The man was not a health worker, and officials had "no idea" how he became infected. 

As NBC noted, four other people with Ebola — all medical volunteers working in West Africa — have been evacuated to the U.S. for treatment, but this is the first case in a traveler. Three of them have recovered.

What Next?

The patient did not exhibit symptoms of Ebola during the flights from West Africa and CDC does not recommend that people on the same commercial airline flights undergo monitoring, as Ebola is contagious only if the person is experiencing active symptoms. The patient reported developing symptoms several days after the return flight. Anyone concerned about possible exposure may call CDC-Info at 800-CDC-INFO for more information.

In a statement, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden acknowledged that Ebola can be scary, but noted the differences in the quality of healthcare in the U.S. and in Ebola-affected African countries.

"The United States has a strong health care system and public health professionals who will make sure this case does not threaten our communities,” Frieden said. “While it is not impossible that there could be additional cases associated with this patient in the coming weeks, I have no doubt that we will contain this.”

CDC recognizes that even a single case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States raises concerns. Knowing the possibility exists, medical and public health professionals across the country have been preparing to respond. CDC and public health officials in Texas are taking precautions to identify people who have had close personal contact with the ill person, and health care professionals have been reminded to use meticulous infection control at all times.

The U.S. public health and medical systems have had prior experience with sporadic cases of diseases such as Ebola and have procedures in place to prevent spreading the virus. In the past decade, the United States had 5 imported cases of viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF) diseases similar to Ebola (1 Marburg, 4 Lassa). None resulted in any transmission in the United States.

The data health officials have seen in the past few decades since Ebola was discovered indicate that it is not spread through casual contact or through the air. The illness has an average eight-10 day incubation period (although it ranges from 2 to 21 days); CDC recommends monitoring exposed people for symptoms a complete 21 days. People are not contagious after exposure unless they develop symptoms.

More information is available at www.cdc.gov/ebola