Since the first case of Ebola was diagnosed in the U.S. earlier this week, public health officials have redoubled their efforts to identify and respond to other potential patients. More than 100 calls have been placed to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about possible cases of Ebola around the country, and the agency last night issued another alert to healthcare providers about how to identify and care for suspect patients.
 
Yet the putative Ebola symptoms—such as fever and aches—nearly always resulted from something different altogether. Of the dozens of calls placed to CDC, only 15 or so patients exhibited symptoms and a travel history that warranted blood testing, and only one of them—the Dallas Ebola patient—tested positive. News today that a potential Ebola patient is being cared for in isolation at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., does not necessarily indicate that a second Ebola patient is in the offing.
 
“We can confirm that a patient has been admitted to Howard University Hospital in stable condition, following travel to Nigeria and presenting with symptoms that could be associated with Ebola,” Kerry-Ann Hamilton, a university spokesperson, said in an emailed statement. It remains unclear what exposure the patient at Howard may have had with an Ebola patient. But only further blood testing will reveal if this is a true case of Ebola or, as has often been the case, it is actually the mosquito-borne disease malaria.
 
Beth Bell, director of CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases told reporters in a telephone press conference today that the agency is aware of the case and will be assisting in the diagnosis and testing of the patient. Fourteen laboratories in the U.S. have the capability to test for and confirm Ebola.
 
Just yesterday rumors swirled that a patient being cared for in isolation in Hawaii might have Ebola, but that state's health department later determined that he was not infected.
 
Steps to prevent the spread of Ebola at the airport in Liberia and other Ebola-laden countries include mandatory temperature checks and a form, constructed by the CDC and Liberian government, that asks travelers such questions  as whether they had recently cared for an Ebola patient or attended funeral rites for one. Reportedly, the Liberian government intends to press charges against the Dallas Ebola patient, a Liberian national, because he answered “no” to that question but assisted an Ebola-infected woman prior to his travel to the U.S.
 
Every day flights in and out of the U.S. traverse the globe, including layovers in countries with Ebola. The disease is only transmitted via contact with the bodily fluids (blood, saliva, vomit, sweat or diarrhea) of an infected and symptomatic patient. Close contact with such fluids (through, for example, a cut in the skin or handling soiled clothes and linens) would prompt the need for a potentially exposed individual to regularly take his temperature throughout the 21-day incubation period for Ebola and be on the lookout for a fever, since that could be a symptom of the disease.
 
The Dallas hospital caring for that patient, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, has come under fire in the past couple days since it became apparent that the hospital initially turned the patient away from care despite his recent travel from Liberia.
 
Last night, Texas Health Presbyterian issued a statement concluding that in the course of its investigation into the incident its electronic record system was at fault for the mishap of sending him home. When nursing staff took down the patient’s information initially in the patient’s record, his travel history would not automatically appear in the physician’s standard workflow, health officials wrote. Now, as a result of this discovery, the recording system has been tweaked so that travel history documentation will show up in both physicians’ and nurses’ records and modified to specifically reference Ebola-endemic regions in Africa.
 
Texas health authorities today said that of the 100 people in Dallas that they were questioning about exposure to the patient, they have determined 50 will need to be followed daily by a member of the public health team.  Their temperatures will be recorded twice a day and they are to be on the lookout for fevers during the next 21 days. Ten of those persons had particularly close contact with the patient.
 
So far, none of the 50 individuals have showed any symptoms for Ebola, David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services told reporters during today's CDC press conference. There is a “low level of concern” about most of those people developing Ebola, CDC’s Bell said during the same teleconference. The Dallas Ebola patient has not received any experimental Ebola treatments but the decision about whether or not to try one of those methods, CDC Director Tom Frieden said yesterday, would be made by the patient, his family and his clinician.


More Ebola coverage:
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Fact or Fiction?: The Ebola Virus Will Go Airborne

First Ebola Case Diagnosed in the U.S.

In-depth report: Ebola: What You Need to Know