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DHHS: Duke patient 'not contagious, posed no threat'

Posted November 3, 2014

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— A patient at Duke University Hospital who developed a fever Sunday after returning from Liberia tested negative Monday morning for Ebola, state health officials said.

The person – whose privacy health officials were respecting in not releasing information about age, race or gender – arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport on Saturday, took a taxi to a bus station, then met family members at a Durham County bus depot early Sunday, according to Dr. Aldona Wos, state Secretary of Health and Human Services.

"Based on today's conversation with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the negative result indicates this person was not contagious and posed no health or safety threat during travels to North Carolina or to Duke," Wos said Monday afternoon.

The unidentified person will remain in secure isolation at the Durham hospital, however, until a second test within the next 72 hours can confirm the results.

Duke Hospital's chief medical officer, Dr. Lisa Pickett, said the initial test is a good sign but that, although the results are negative, there is a window of time where the Ebola virus "grows" in the bloodstream and that early on, concentrations can be very low.

"Sometimes, in very early stages, with only a few symptoms, there will not be enough virus in the blood to turn the test positive," Pickett said. "Then later, as there's more and more virus in the blood, there would be enough to turn the test positive and then, likely at that point, to give the patient more symptoms."

A second test on Wednesday, if negative, will be enough to rule out Ebola, Pickett said.

Until that time, the protocol remains in place and the patient in isolation.

"We are confident," she said, "but we are continuing to treat him as though he has Ebola, with all isolation and security practices around him, to be sure that our staff and the community are safe and that the patient receives good care."

The patient, Pickett said, is being quarantined in in a special unit at the hospital – an entire wing of a floor – and has had direct contact with about a dozen staff members.

Those employees, she said, have employed a "buddy system," where they watch each other put on and remove protective gear to help safeguard against the possible risk of exposure.

Pickett said her staff was putting into practice a protocol that they had practiced just days ago.

"Each person who interacts with this patient has been trained for four hours from Duke University personnel who are used to dealing with biohazards on a daily basis," she said. Staffers will have the option of staying in isolation at the hospital if they are uncomfortable going home.

Wos said Sunday that the state has been preparing for months and is ready for potential Ebola cases.

"Today, this intensive preparation is being put to use," she said.

State epidemiologist Dr. Megan Davies said the patient had been without fever since arrival at Duke and had not developed any other symptoms that would be consistent with Ebola.

She reiterated that the patient had no symptoms and would not have been contagious during either the plane or bus ride, therefore the CDC is not worried about contacting those who might have traveled those routes.

The person – who had no known exposure to Ebola – measured a temperature of 101.9 degrees Sunday night upon arrival in Person County and called the CDC. The person was given a thermometer at Newark airport, a now-standard procedure for flights arriving from counties where Ebola is present.

Health experts say that Ebola is contagious only after the onset of symptoms and is spread through direct, unprotected contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. It is not spread through air, water, food or proximity.

Other patients at the hospital, staff and those who work nearby seem to have gotten that message.

"It's not a big deal," said patient Joan King. "I trust this place. If he had to come to a place and be treated, this is a good place."

Rich D’Angiolillo, who works near the hospital, agreed.

"Duke – they’ll take care of people very, very well," he said. "Probably the people who are most at risk are the caretakers."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Kaitlyn Legare Nov 4, 2014
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    A travel ban is the worst thing we can possibly do right now. Everyone agrees that the best way to stop the epidemic is to eliminate it at its source in W Africa, which will require health care workers from the US and other countries to go there. A travel ban or mandatory 21 day quarantine period will prevent or discourage health care workers from going there in the numbers we need. If you are worried now wait til Ebola spreads out of Africa into the middle-east, India and maybe even China. Are we going to ban all international travel if this happens?

  • Thomas Hannan Nov 4, 2014
    user avatar

    THOUGHT CRIMINAL WS - "You can keep your doctor... but you can't.
    Ebola will never reach our shores... but we can't keep it out.
    It's not contagious until symptoms are shown....

    Fill in the blank genius's. Place some more trust in your plantation master democrat politicians and keep swallowing the propaganda."

    I have had the same doctor for 15 years.. so much for that comment. NO ONE said that Ebola would "never reach our shores", we were told that there would not be a major outbreak. So far that is completely true. And, IT STILL IS NOT CONTAGIOUS UNTIL SYMPTOMS APPEAR. As to your final comment about the "plantation master", you got the race wrong.

  • Thomas Hannan Nov 4, 2014
    user avatar

    FOOLMEONCE - "This would be terribly expensive, and the best way would be a travel ban. We shouldn't be guinea pigs for the CDC."

    You are not a guinea pig ... no one is. Good try though. There has been ONE confirmed case of Ebola and ONE death. There will be THOUSANDS of cases of influenza this year and over 1500 deaths.

  • Angie Cox Nov 4, 2014
    user avatar

    is everyone that gets a temp going to run to their local hospital? it is too soon to tell whether or not this particular person has it or not...

  • icdmbpppl Nov 4, 2014

    Until the government bans travel to and from West African countries, or puts people in quarantine for at least 21 days, we will continue to see cases of Ebola in our country. I think the quarantine should be mandatory ,not self monitoring. This would be terribly expensive, and the best way would be a travel ban. We shouldn't be guinea pigs for the CDC.

  • raleighboy524 Nov 4, 2014

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    I look forward to our culture evolving to the point that we will be able to focus on future facts.

  • A cold, hard dose of Hans Nov 4, 2014

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  • NiceNSmooth Nov 4, 2014

    wow... yet another person let back in to this country legally causing a major issue... but we are so worried about the illegal entries lol

  • bill0 Nov 4, 2014

    " they are assuming facts based on past-history."

    Yes- that is how facts work.

  • raleighboy524 Nov 4, 2014

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    Believe it or not, the 72 hour timeframe for retesting has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with medicine. It's standard procedure. Naturally you are free to believe otherwise. But beware on that cruise you are planning -- you may sail right off the edge of the flat Earth.