At least 100 people in Texas are being contacted and monitored as a result of a single West African man who had contracted the Ebola virus before flying to the United States to visit relatives.
Officials says up to five elementary and high school students came into contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, a native of the West African nation of Liberia, who was aiding Ebola patients. He came down severely ill while in Dallas and visited a local emergency room, sent home with antibiotics. But Duncan returned a few days later when he became even sicker and then was diagnosed with the highly-contagious and deadly virus, Ebola, that’s ravaging three countries in West Africa.
Many student’s parents kept their children home from school in the Dallas-Forth Worth corridor, while other parents advised their children to limit contact with other students while at school.
Custodians are reportedly stepping up cleanup work at Dallas schools attended by the five students who may have been in contact with Duncan.
“We don’t think there’s any virus at any of those buildings, but we’ll take that off the table, so we’re doing extra cleaning and disinfecting,” said Mike Miles, superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District, told the Dallas Morning News. Attendance at those schools Thursday was down, he said.
Meanwhile, the Liberian government announced they will prosecute Duncan for lying on his airport screening forms that asks those leaving the West African nation if they came in contact with anyone with the Ebola virus. Duncan had indicated ‘no’ on that form.
The health questionnaire typically contains questions about the passenger’s recent contact with Ebola patients. Passengers also are asked whether they’ve experienced any symptoms consistent with Ebola, such as vomiting, diarrhea or joint pain, in the past couple of days.
Duncan was helping Ebola patients during his stay in Liberia, witnesses say. Liberian community leader Tugbeh Chieh Tugbeh said Duncan was caring for an Ebola-infected patient at a residence in Paynesville City, just outside of Monrovia, CNN reports.
Health officials are reaching out to as many as 100 people who may have had contact with Duncan, a spokeswoman with the Texas Department of State Health Services said Thursday, who is working with officials from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These are people who are still being questioned because they may have crossed paths with the patient either at the hospital, at his apartment complex or in the community.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we’re starting with this very wide net, including people who have had even brief encounters with the patient or the patient’s home,” spokeswoman Carrie Williams told Bloomberg News. “The number will drop as we focus in on those whose contact may represent a potential risk of infection.”
Some pundits belief that lax airport restrictions have enabled the infectious diseases such as Ebola to travel across country borders and continents.
“Any infectious disease is just a plane ride away in our society now,” Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York who isn’t involved in the Dallas case, said yesterday in a telephone interview. “It’s bound to happen, especially because the protocol to screen people at airports is not strict now.”