Ebola epidemic: New York doctor tests positive for virus
A policeman stands at the entrance to New York’s Bellevue Hospital after the city’s first case of Ebola was confirmed. Picture: Getty ImagesA doctor in New York who recently returned from treating Ebola patients in Guinea has tested positive for the deadly virus, becoming the city’s first diagnosed case.
The doctor, Craig Spencer, was rushed to Bellevue Hospital on Thursday (New York time) and placed in isolation while healthcare workers spread out across the city to trace anyone he might have come into contact with him in recent days. A further test will be conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control to confirm the initial test.
Meanwhile,Mali became the sixth West African country to confirm an Ebola case, indicating again the disease’s barely controlled spread across porous regional borders.
A spokesman for the country’s health ministry said Thursday night that a girl 2 to 3 years old had tested positive for the disease and was in isolation at a hospital in one of the country’s provincial hubs, Kayes, on the western border with Senegal.
The girl had come from Guinea, where the worst-ever outbreak of the disease began and where it is still raging, the spokesperson said. Guinea shares a long border with Mali
At least one of the girl’s parents has died, probably from Ebola, he said, and a grandmother of the girl had traveled to Guinea from Mali to fetch her. In one potentially worrying aspect of the case, the little girl spent time in Mali’s densely packed capital, Bamako, a city of about 2 million people.
Three West African nations – Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia – continue to have “persistent and widespread transmission,” according to the World Health Organisation. Nearly 5000 people have died, the organisation reported.
Senegal and Nigeria, two other West African nations, have had isolated cases of the disease and have managed to eradicate it, for now, the health organisation said.
In the US, officials have said they expected isolated cases of the disease to arrive in New York eventually, and had been preparing for this moment for months. However the first case in the city highlighted the challenges surrounding containment of the virus, especially in a crowded metropolis.
Even as the authorities worked to confirm that Dr Spencer was infected with Ebola, it emerged that he travelled from Manhattan to Brooklyn on the subway on Wednesday night, when he went to a bowling alley and then took a taxi home.
The next morning, he reported having a temperature of 103 degrees, raising questions about his health while he was out in public.
KEEPING UP WITH DEMAND: Chinese workers make the protective suit for the handling of people infected with the Ebola virus.
Dr Spencer’s travel history and the timing of the onset of his symptoms led health officials to dispatch “disease detectives immediately began to actively trace all of the patient’s contacts to identify anyone who may be at potential risk,” according toa statement released by the department.
It was unclear if the city was trying to find people who might have come into contact with Dr Spencer on the subway. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority directed all questions to the health department, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the issue.
At Dr Spencer’s apartment in Harlem, his home was sealed off and workers distributed informational fliers about the disease. It was not clear if anyone was being quarantined.
Health authorities declined to say how many people in total might have come into contact with Dr Spencer while he was symptomatic.
New York mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking at a press conference before the diagnosis, said Dr Spencer has given health workers a detailed accounting of his activities over the last few days.
“Our understanding is that very few people were in direct contact with him,” Mr de Blasio said.
Dr Spencer had been working with Doctors Without Borders in Guinea, treating Ebola patients, before returning to New York City on October 14, according to a city official.
He told the authorities that he did not believe the protective gear he wore while working with Ebola patients had been breached but had been monitoring his own health.
Doctors Without Borders, in a statement, said it provides guidelines for its staff on their return from Ebola assignments, but did not elaborate on those protocols.
“The individual engaged in regular health monitoring and reported this development immediately,” the group said in a statement.
Dr Spencer began to feel sluggish earlier this week but did not develop afeveruntil Thursday morning, he told the authorities. At 11am, the doctor found that he had a 103-degree temperature and alerted the staff of Doctors Without Borders, according to the official.
The staff of Doctors Without Borders called the city’s health department, which in turn called the Fire Department.
Emergency medical workers, wearing full protective gear, rushed to Dr Spencer’s apartment on West 147th Street. He was transported to Bellevue and arrived shortly after 1pm.
He was placed in a special isolation unit and is being seen by the pre-designated medical critical care team. They are in personal protective equipment with undergarment air ventilation systems.
A healthcare worker at the hospital said that Dr Spencer seemed very sick and it was unclear to the medical staff why he had not gone to the hospital earlier, since his fever was high.
Dr Spencer is a fellow of international emergency medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, and an instructor in clinical medicine at Columbia University.
“He is a committed and responsible physician who always puts his patients first,” the hospital said in a statement. “He has not been to work at our hospital and has not seen any patients at our hospital since his return from overseas.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dispatched a team of experts to assist in the case, before the test results were even known.
New York Times, Reuters