Parents, Schools Worry as First US Ebola Victim Hospitalized in Dallas

The first US case of Ebola in Dallas caused parents to pick up their children at school when word spread that the man diagnosed with the virus had come in contact with five Dallas children. Bryan S. Kay, writing for The Christian Science Monitor, says the children are not exhibiting any symptoms of the disease and have been kept home from school. The Dallas Independent School District (DISD) superintendent said that his district is working with the Centers for Disease Control.

The children who came in contact with the patient were from within the victim’s immediate family and are being kept home for the 21-day incubation period, but they are not being quarantined. Superintendent Mike Miles said, “the odds of them passing any sort of virus is very low”.

Still, parents and residents of Dallas are fearful. The CDC has emphasized that the Ebola virus is not airborne and is probably passed through bodily fluids.

“We’re stopping it in its tracks in this country,” Dr. Frieden said at a press conference announcing the case Tuesday evening. “We can do that because of two things: strong health care … and strong public health that can track contacts and isolate them.”

The DISD has put a number of emergency measures in place at the four schools the children attend and in one school that is nearby. The schools are adding a precautionary cleaning and disinfecting at the five schools and a hotline has recorded updates on the situation.

“Since the students are not presenting any symptoms, there is nothing to suggest that the disease was spread to others, including students and staff,” a statement from the DISD reads.

Thomas E. Duncan, the man who became the first US victim, told officials at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital last Friday that he had just arrived from West Africa, but was not admitted to the hospital. The information that Duncan had given and the fact that he had a mild fever was not passed along, according to an article in The New York Times written by Manny Fernandez and Norimitsu Onishi.

Mr. Duncan came back to the hospital on Sunday and was admitted, but in the two days in between he had contact with a number of people. The five children and the medics who helped transport him were potentially exposed to Ebola. The medics were isolated in their homes and are being monitored.  Duncan is in serious but stable condition.

Yesterday, Superintendent Miles said in a news conference that additional health professionals and custodians were being added at the impacted schools, writes Tawnell D. Hobbs of The Dallas Morning News.

Staff Writer Melissa Repko said that one middle school parent stated that she wished that someone from the school had sent parents an informational flier to notify parents and to explain the virus’ symptoms. Later Staff Writer Jeff Mosier wrote that a handful of parents from Hotchkiss Elementary arrived at the school to take their children out of class.

Brussels Airlines, the airline Duncan took from Monrovia, the Liberian capital, to Brussels, told reporters Wednesday that it was in touch with international health authorities and had begun a number of precautionary measures since the crisis began, write John M. Glionna, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, and Alexandra Zavis of the Los Angeles Times.

David L. Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said:

“This is not West Africa. This is a very sophisticated city, a very sophisticated hospital, and the dynamics are so significantly different … that the chances of it being spread are very, very small. Unless somebody has symptoms, it’s not going to be transmitted to another individual.”

Ebola symptoms include fever, severe headache, muscle pain, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or hemorrhage.

NBC News reports that an executive of the hospital said that the nurse who saw Duncan used an Ebola checklist to diagnose him, but the patient was allowed to go home because the first team that assessed him felt he had “a low-grade common viral disease”. Dr Mark Lester said this was not a “misstep” but the procedures taken were being investigated.