DALLAS (AP) — The first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S. initially went to a Dallas emergency room last week but was sent home, despite telling a nurse that he had been in disease-ravaged West Africa, the hospital acknowledged Wednesday.
The decision by Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital to release him could have put many others at risk of exposure to the disease before he went back to the ER two days later, after his condition worsened.
Thomas Eric Duncan explained to a nurse Friday that he was visiting the U.S. from Liberia, but that information was not widely shared, said Dr. Mark Lester, who works for the hospital’s parent company.
Duncan’s answer “was not fully communicated” throughout the hospital’s medical team, Lester said.
Instead, the patient was sent home with antibiotics, according to his sister, Mai Wureh, who identified her brother as the infected man in an interview with The Associated Press.
Antibiotics, which target bacteria, are generally ineffective against Ebola, which is caused by a virus.
A day after the man’s diagnosis was confirmed, a nine-member team of federal health officials was tracking anyone who had close contact with him.
The team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was in Dallas to work with local and state health agencies to ensure that those people are watched every day for 21 days.
“If anyone develops fever, we’ll immediately isolate them to stop the chain of transmission,” Dr. Tom Frieden, the CDC director, said in an interview.
Duncan has been kept in isolation at the hospital since Sunday. He was listed in serious but stable condition.
Ebola is believed to have sickened more than 7,100 people in West Africa, and more than 3,300 deaths have been linked to the disease, according to the World Health Organization.
Officials are monitoring 12 to 18 people who may have been exposed to the man, including three members of the ambulance crew that transported him to the hospital and five schoolchildren.
Officials said there are no other suspected cases in Texas, but the diagnosis sent anxiety through the area’s West African community, whose leaders urged caution to prevent spreading the virus.