A nurse at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas tested positive for Ebola after contact with a now-deceased patient. After working in Liberia, Thomas Duncan sought treatment at the emergency room on Sept. 25, but was sent home without having his travel history “fully communicated” to doctors. Three days later, he again was in the emergency room, this time with a 103-degree fever, explosive diarrhea and projectile vomiting. Duncan was then diagnosed with Ebola and died on Oct. 8. He is the first person to die from Ebola in the United States. The mistakes the hospital made in handling Duncan’s case cannot be overstated. Proper protocol was ignored, and as a result, a nurse treating Duncan was infected. However, unlike Dallas, New York City has already implemented an array of measures to prevent the spread of Ebola. New York City residents can have confidence that officials are taking the threat seriously and exercising caution to protect the public.
New York City 911 operators are now taking travel history from callers who report Ebola symptoms, such as fever or vomiting. If they have traveled to West Africa in the past three weeks, emergency personnel will respond in protective gear. John F. Kennedy International Airport has started to screen passengers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in response to the Ebola outbreak. The airport will be taking passengers’ temperatures and asking questions about their travel history. If a passenger has a fever, then a CDC representative will become involved. It is impossible to determine whether these precautions would have prevented Duncan from entering the United States, as he was not showing symptoms during his flight. However, these measures are a good step toward preventing the spread of Ebola and reassuring New Yorkers that they are safe.
The Texas nurse working on Duncan’s case is the first transmission of the virus within the United States, evincing that cities need to be prepared to handle these rare cases. Hospital transmission is a serious concern with any infectious disease, and hospital protocol needs to be both constantly improved and tightly followed. It is important to remember that this disease can only be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids. CDC director Thomas Frieden said the organization wanted health care workers to be cautious when implementing Ebola protocol to ensure they are “incredibly meticulous.” As Ebola patients are contagious only when they show symptoms, ordinary citizens must avoid contact with ill people who have traveled to West Africa. Despite the immense panic Ebola has incited, New Yorkers can take comfort in the commitment their officials have to combat potential threats.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 15 print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]