Family that hosted Ebola patient in US confined to home

  • AP, Dallas
  • Updated: Oct 03, 2014 19:13 IST

A woman who has been confined to her apartment under armed guard after a man infected with Ebola stayed at her home, said she never imagined this could happen to her so far from disease-ravaged West Africa.

Louise Troh said on Thursday that she is tired of being locked up and wants federal health authorities to decontaminate her home.

Authorities say the circle of people in the US possibly exposed to Ebola widened after the man, who arrived from Liberia last month, was discharged from a hospital without being tested for the deadly virus.

The first Ebola diagnosis in the nation has raised concerns about whether the disease that has killed 3,300 people in West Africa could spread in the US Federal health officials say they are confident they can keep it in check. Liberia is one of three countries hit hardest in the epidemic, along with Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The confinement order, which also bans visitors, was imposed after the family failed to comply with a request to stay home, according to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. Texas State Health Commissioner David Lakey said the order would ensure the woman, her 13-year-old son and two nephews can be closely monitored for signs of the disease.

Troh said she had imagined she would be safe from the grasp of the virus thousands of miles from her native Liberia, the worst-hit country.

"No one thinks this will happen," she said in an interview with The Associated Press.

She said she and her family are "stressed" about being quarantined.

"Who wants to be locked up?" she said.

Troh was waiting for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to collect the bed sheets and towels that Thomas Eric Duncan used when he stayed at her home before his Ebola diagnosis.

A hazardous material crew arrived to decontaminate the apartment Thursday evening but didn't have the required permits to clean and remove hazardous waste, city spokesman Richard Hill said.

The crew, contracted by the county and state, would return Friday to complete the job.

The family must be relocated before the cleanup can begin, Hill said. He had no information on where the family would go.

American Red Cross representatives delivered food to the apartment on Thursday and the North Texas Food Bank said it sent cereal, tuna, produce and other supplies.

Private security guards and sheriff's deputies blocked the entrance to the 300-unit apartment complex to dozens of reporters.

Texas health officials expanded their efforts to contain the virus, reaching out to as many as 100 people who may have had direct contact with Duncan or someone close to him.

None of them has shown symptoms, but they have been told to notify medical workers if they feel ill, said Erikka Neroes, a spokeswoman for the Dallas County Health and Human Services agency.

The at-risk group includes 12 to 18 people who had direct contact with the infected man, including an ambulance crew and a handful of schoolchildren, she said. The others came into contact with that core group.

"This is a big spider web" of people, Neroes said.

The virus that causes Ebola is not airborne and can only be spread through close contact with someone who has symptoms. People must come into direct contact with the patient's bodily fluids - blood, sweat, vomit, faeces, urine, saliva or semen - and those fluids must have an entry point.

Ebola dried on surfaces can survive for several hours, according to the CDC. For example, people might get infected by handling soiled clothing or bed sheets and then touching their mouth, or if they are not wearing gloves while doing those tasks and have a cut on their hand.

"If you sit next to someone on the bus, you're not exposed," CDC Director Dr Tom Frieden said.

Duncan's neighbours in the Liberian capital believe he become infected when he helped a sick pregnant neighbour a few weeks ago. It was not clear if he had learned of the woman's diagnosis before travelling.

Nonetheless, Liberian authorities announced plans to prosecute Duncan when he returns, accusing him of lying about not having any contact with an infected person.

Duncan filled out a form about his health and activities before leaving for Dallas. Among the questions asked on the September 19 form, obtained by The Associated Press, one asked whether Duncan had cared for an Ebola patient or touched the body of anyone who had died in an area affected by Ebola. He answered no to all the questions.

Duncan arrived in Dallas on September 20 and fell ill a few days later. His sister, Mai Wureh, identified him as the infected man in an interview with The Associated Press.

A Dallas emergency room sent Duncan home last week, even though he told a nurse he had been in disease-ravaged West Africa, and raising questions as to whether that decision may have put others at risk of exposure.

In a statement emailed late on Thursday, the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital said it followed communicable disease protocols by also asking Duncan if he had come into contact with anyone who was ill, to which he replied he had not. His symptoms included a temperature of 100.1F, abdominal pain, a headache and decreased urination, the hospital said. He said he had no nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea, and based on that information the hospital decided to release him.

He returned to the hospital two days later and has been kept in isolation at the hospital since Sunday. He was listed on Thursday as serious but in stable condition.

Late on Thursday, NBC News reported that an American freelance cameraman working for the network in Liberia has tested positive for the virus and will be flown back to the United States along with the rest of the NBC News crew.

The network is withholding the freelancer's name at his family's request.

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