Authorities in Dallas said on Sunday they had located a homeless man who may have had contact with Thomas Duncan, the only Ebola patient to have received a diagnosis in the US.
A few hours after officials told a conference call with media the man was missing a Dallas city spokeswoman, Sana Syed, said he had been located. Officials said the man was not one of 10 people who have definitely had contact with Duncan.
Duncan, who is from Liberia, which with Guinea and Sierra Leone is one of the principal centres of the outbreak – has been in isolation at Texas Health Presbyterian hospital in Dallas since last Sunday.
In the conference call Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas County’s director of emergency management, did not identify the homeless man, whom he called “a low-risk individual identified as a contact”. Jenkins said the man needed to be found in order to “get him to a comfortable, compassionate place where we can monitor him and care for his every need”.
More than 3,400 people have died in west Africa from Ebola, which can only be spread through direct contact with blood, sweat, vomit, faeces, urine, saliva, semen or other body fluids of an infected person who is showing symptoms.
On Saturday, Duncan’s condition worsened from “serious” to “critical” . On Sunday, Dr Thomas Frieden, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Duncan had “taken a turn for the worse” and was “fighting for his life”.
The homeless man, who officials said was in a group of 38 people who may have had contact with Duncan, was said to have shown no signs of Ebola when he was tested on Saturday. Officials say the policy is to monitor the condition people who may have come into contact with an Ebola sufferer for 21 days.
In the same conference call, Frieden said he would brief President Barack Obama on Monday, and that proposals to screen for Ebola at US airports would be looked at. He also said that doses of the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp, were “all gone” and “not going to be available anytime soon”.
Frieden said that “as far as we understand”, no experimental medicine was being used to treat Duncan.
Earlier on Sunday, speaking to CNN, Frieden said he was “confident we won’t see a large number of cases” developing from contact with Duncan, while a Nebraska hospital said it was preparing for the arrival of a US citizen who contracted Ebola in Liberia. The hospital did not name the man; news media reported that he was Ashoka Mukpo, a freelance cameraman who was working for NBC when he contracted the disease.
On Friday, the World Health Organisation said Ebola had killed more than 3,400 people out of 7,470 confirmed or suspected cases. The WHO added that of 382 health workers infected, more than half have died.
Frieden said: “As of now the man in Dallas, who is fighting for his life, is the only patient to develop Ebola in the US. We know there are going to be concerns and rumours and we will track them down. We want people to be concerned, but appropriately concerned.”
Frieden said “about 10” people had definitely had contact with Duncan, who was initially misdiagnosed, and that “about 40 might have had contact”, including people who subsequently rode in an ambulance which had carried Duncan. He added: “Every one of them will be monitored every day to see if they have fever. If they do, they will be promptly isolated. That’s how you stop it. That is why we are confident we won’t see a large number of cases from this.”
Duncan’s family were moved on Saturday to a house at an undisclosed gated community which Jenkins said had been donated by someone from “the faith community”. On Sunday, Frieden said: “We are concerned about a couple of close family members who had very close contact with him when he was sick. But that’s something that we’ll just have to check for 21 days from the last day of their contact with him.”
Louise Troh, the woman whom Duncan came to the US to visit, on Saturday told the Associated Press in a telephone interview: “I pray in Jesus’ name that it will be all right.”
Duncan was initially sent home from hospital, a decision which has led to debate about what doctors knew about his travel history and when , in which the hospital’s own position has shifted. On Friday, Texas Health Presbyterian hospital released a statement which said his travel history had been “documented and available” to the entire medical team that first treated Duncan.
Once he had returned and been given a diagnosis of Ebola, and isolated, contaminated sheets and materials at the apartment at which he had been staying were not collected for some days . They were finally removed, in industrial barrels, on Friday.
Asked about such mis-steps, Frieden said: “Ebola is scary. We understand people are very concerned. The reason we had some challenges with the medical waste was that it was the first time we had to deal that situation, and just by chance there had been a glitch in the government system to approve a waste removal company to do that. That’s been resolved.
“The issue of the misdiagnosis initially is concerning, and that’s why we’re redoubling our work with doctors, hospitals, emergency departments, medical societies and folks who work on electronic health records.”
Frieden said the Dallas case had focused attention on Ebola in the US, which was “why we are seeing a lot more people calling us about Ebola”, which was “what we want to see”. He added that people who saw symptoms such as an escalating fever that “might be Ebola should immediately call their local health department and get them tested”.
On Saturday, a man was taken off a United Airlines flight arriving in Newark, New Jersey, from Brussels, after flight crew reported that a person believed to be from Liberia had exhibited possible signs of Ebola. The CDC subsequently said a full evaluation of the man at a local hospital had showed “no evidence or concern for Ebola” and that the man was discharged “feeling well”.
A Massachusetts hospital, meanwhile, was awaiting test results on a doctor and missionary who was successfully treated for Ebola – at the Nebraska hospital which was preparing for a new patient on Sunday – but who is now back in hospital.
Dr Richard Sacra was hospitalised on Saturday and is in stable condition with a cough and conjunctivitis, commonly known as pinkeye.
“We are isolating Dr Sacra to be cautious pending final confirmation of his illness,” Dr Robert Finberg told the Associated Press. “We think it is highly unlikely that he has Ebola. We suspect he has an upper respiratory tract infection.”
Later on Sunday, the hospital said Sacra had said he was “feeling better”. Officials said that they expected results of Ebola testing on Sacra within the next two days.
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