New York: A doctor who treated Ebola patients in Guinea and returned to the US last week has tested positive for the Ebola virus here, becoming New York city's first diagnosed case.
Craig Spencer, 33, is currently "hospitalized in isolation" at the Bellevue Hospital, one of eight New York State hospitals that Governor Andrew Cuomo has designated to treat Ebola patients. A specially trained Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) team determined earlier this week that the hospital has been trained in proper protocols and is well prepared to treat Ebola patients.
Spencer, who had been working with Doctors Without Borders in Guinea, returned to New York City through JFK Airport on October 17, according to the CDC. He had been subjected to the enhanced screening for all returning travelers from countries most affected by the Ebola epidemic. He went through multiple layers of screening and did not have a fever or other symptoms of illness.
He reported a fever of 103 degrees to local health officials for the first time on Thursday and was immediately transported by a specially trained Hazardous Material Tactical Units unit wearing Personal Protective Equipment to Bellevue.
In the days since he returned, Spencer had taken the subway and visited a bowling alley in Brooklyn. City officials said while the number of people who could have come into contact with him is very less, his girlfriend and a couple of friends have been quarantined and health officials are trying to determine whether there were other people the patient had come in contact with before he began showing symptoms of the virus.
Officials have said that Spencer was monitoring his temperature and confined himself to his apartment most of the time. The New York City Health Department has interviewed the patient regarding close contacts and activities and CDC is in close communications with the New York City Health Department and Bellevue Hospital, and is providing technical assistance and resources.
Seeking to allay fears about the possible spread of the virus in one of the most densely packed and populated cities in the world, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, "there is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed" and the city has "been preparing for months for the threat posed by Ebola."
The mayor said that Bellevue is "the most battle tested". Reiterating that Ebola is an extremely hard disease to contract, the mayor said, "We are working very closely with our state and federal partners...to protect the health and safety of New Yorkers."
"Being on the same subway car, or living near a person with Ebola does not itself put someone at risk. New York City has the world's strongest public health system," the mayor said, adding that New Yorkers who have not been exposed to an infected person's bodily fluids are not at risk. Howard Zucker, Acting Commissioner of Health for New York State, said he would "get on the subway" tomorrow and ride the subway, stressing that there is no risk in taking public transport.
Commissioner of the NYC Health Department Mary Bassett said during the time Spencer was leaving his apartment or when he was on the subway, he had no fever and people with Ebola are contagious when they are sick, "and what's contagious about them are body fluids."
Bassett said Spencer's apartment has been locked and is non-accessible and the health workers who have attended to him so far are using full protective gear. "They were ready," she said. Officials also said that when someone gets Ebola, they're not "infectious initially" and people can only get Ebola by being exposed to bodily fluids. New York Governor said that the city is "as ready as one could be for this circumstance."
Three members of CDC's Ebola Response Team was expected to have arrived in New York City last night. The team is deployed when an Ebola case is identified in the United States, or when health officials have a very strong suspicion that a patient has Ebola pending lab results.
CDC already had a team of Ebola experts in New York City who can offer immediate additional support. The CDC experts were in New York City this week assessing hospital readiness to receive Ebola patients, including at Bellevue hospital. CDC's Ebola hospital assessment teams are designed to make sure that hospitals that have volunteered to take Ebola patients are Ebola ready, the agency said.
The CDC teams assess a facility's infection control readiness and to determine if there are gaps in infection control readiness. They support a facility in developing a comprehensive infection control plan. The principle is to be ready for the patient coming in the front door and everything that happens through the patient's stay in the hospital.
CDC had named New York as one of six states that will begin active post-arrival monitoring of travelers whose travel originates in Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea and arrive at one of the five airports in the US doing enhanced screening. Active post-arrival monitoring means that travelers without febrile illness or symptoms consistent with Ebola will be followed up daily by state and local health departments for 21 days from the date of their departure from West Africa.