Up to 100 Americans May Have Been Exposed to Ebola by Dallas Patient

Thomas Eric Duncan reportedly lied on an airport questionnaire about not having any contact with an infected person; Liberia set to prosecute him.

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Health workers wearing protective gear go to remove the body of a person who is believed to have died after contracting the Ebola virus in the city of Monrovia, Liberia.
Health workers wearing protective gear go to remove the body of a person who is believed to have died after contracting the Ebola virus in the city of Monrovia, Liberia. Credit: AP

As many as 100 people had contact with the first person to be diagnosed with the deadly Ebola virus in the United States, a significant jump from the 18 cited earlier, NBC News reported on Thursday.

Health officials said four members of Thomas Eric Duncan's family had been ordered to stay home as a precautionary measure and urged hospitals across the country to heed the lessons from Dallas, where a hospital initially sent the patient home, possibly exposing more people to the deadly virus.

The Dallas County health and human services said 100 people came into contact with Duncan or his family, NBC reported Thursday. Director Zachary Thompson said the 80 included anyone who had some kind of contact with or exposure to the patient.

Liberia plans to prosecute Duncan, alleging that he lied on an airport questionnaire about not having any contact with an infected person, authorities said Thursday.

Thomas Eric Duncan filled out a series of questions about his health and activities before leaving on his journey to Dallas. On a September 19 form obtained by The Associated Press, he answered no to all of them.

Among other questions, the form asked whether Duncan had cared for an Ebola patient or touched the body of anyone who had died in an area affected by Ebola.

Public health authorities have been calling on U.S. healthcare workers to screen patients for signs of illness, question patients about their travel history and rule out Ebola for those who have been to West Africa, where more than 3,000 people have died in the epidemic.

"Unfortunately, that did not happen in this case," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "We just need to put that behind us and look ahead and make sure that in the future that doesn't happen again." "This will certainly serve for the rest of a country as a cogent lesson learned," he added in an interview on MSNBC.

The Dallas patient, who had flown from Liberia, initially sought treatment at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital late last Thursday but was sent home with antibiotics, despite telling a nurse he had recently come from West Africa. By Sunday, he needed an ambulance to return to the same hospital. On Wednesday, hospital officials admitted the man's travel information was not shared with all staff treating him.

The patient has not been identified by the hospital, which cited privacy reasons. However, Gee Melish, who said he was a family friend, identified the man as Thomas Eric Duncan.

Duncan's nephew, Josephus Weeks, told NBC on Wednesday night that his uncle was not treated for Ebola until he personally called the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta to report the suspected illness. He said he called the day Duncan returned to the Dallas hospital. A CDC spokesman said on Thursday the agency was looking into when or if such a call was placed.

The New York Times said Duncan, in his mid-forties, helped transport a pregnant woman suffering from Ebola to a hospital in Liberia, where she was turned away for lack of space. Duncan helped bring the woman back to her family's home and carried her into the house, where she later died, the newspaper reported. The case has prompted national concern over the potential for a wider spread of the deadly virus from West Africa, where at least 3,338 people have died in the worst outbreak on record.

U.S. health officials have said the country's healthcare system is well prepared to contain any spread of Ebola through careful tracking of people who had contact with the patient and appropriate care for those admitted to hospital.

Federal officials are working to increase sharply production of experimental drug ZMapp, which many experts believe is the most promising treatment for Ebola victims in the West African outbreak, the Times reported on Thursday. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is trying to enlist Caliber Biotherapeutics in Texas to produce the drug, the newspaper reported, citing unidentified federal officials and drug industry executives.

The Ebola scare spooked U.S. markets on Wednesday. Airline and hotel shares dropped sharply on fears that Ebola's spread outside African might curtail travel.  

Families walk by a police car near the main entrance to The Ivy Apartments, where the Dallas man diagnosed with Ebola was staying with family, Wed., Oct. 1, 2014. Credit: AP

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