The first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States died Wednesday morning in Dallas, a hospital spokesman said, as officials reassured an anxious public that the case was an isolated one and that the often-fatal virus will not be allowed to spread in Texas.
Thomas Eric Duncan was pronounced dead at 7:51 a.m. at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, said Wendell Watson, a spokesman for the hospital. Duncan had been kept in isolation since he was admitted Sept. 28, after showing Ebola symptoms days after he arrived from Liberia.
Others in Dallas still are being monitored as health officials try to contain the virus that has ravaged West Africa, where more than 3,400 people have been reported dead. They are also trying to tamp down anxiety among residents frightened of contracting Ebola, though the disease can be spread only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of a person who is already showing symptoms.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings issued a statement Wednesday offering the city’s sympathies to Duncan’s family and friends, and adding, "I remain confident in the abilities of our health care professionals and the medical advances here in the U.S. and reassure you we will stop the Ebola virus in its tracks from spreading into our community. I want to reinforce to the public that this was an isolated incident of the Ebola virus, contracted by the individual while residing in another country."
Following news of Duncan's death, the White House announced that it would soon begin implementing enhanced screening measures for potential Ebola carriers at five of the busiest airports in the U.S. — Washington-Dulles near Washington, D.C., as well as John F. Kennedy in New York, O’Hare in Illinois, Hartsfield-Jackson in Georgia and Newark Liberty International in New Jersey.
The five airports receive over 94 percent of travelers from the Ebola-affected nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
The new screening measures will include taking the temperatures of travelers from West African countries and giving them questionnaires, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"Protecting Americans is our No. 1 priority," CDC Director Thomas Frieden said during a press conference on Wednesday.
Frieden noted that there have been increasing calls for a travel ban to and from West Africa, but said such a policy would not be imposed because it could do more harm by restricting the movement of health care workers.
"If we make it harder to respond to the outbreak, it will spread to other countries and ultimately increase here," he said.
JFK Airport will begin implementing enhanced screenings on Saturday. Other airports will launch the new measures next week, according to Frieden.
Travelers who do not display any symptoms nor have a known history of exposure will be asked to provide their contact information and to complete a daily temperature log.
Passengers determined to have been exposed to Ebola will be referred to a local public health care center, where their temperatures will be taken every day for 21 days after the last exposure, Frieden said.
Duncan, who apparently carried the Ebola virus from his home in Liberia, had not had shown signs of the illness when he left there for the United States. He arrived in Dallas on Sept. 20 and fell sick a few days later, and his condition was downgraded from serious to critical during the past weekend.
Officials have identified 10 people, including seven health workers, who had direct contact with Duncan while he was contagious. Another 38 people also may have come into contact with him.
The four people living in the northeast Dallas apartment where Duncan stayed have been isolated at a private residence.
Duncan's stepdaughter Youngor Jallah, who is housebound along with her children, told Al Jazeera that she found out about Duncan's death on TV.
"I was not expecting anything like this," Jallah said.
When asked about her and her family's health, she said, "We are all fine for now."
Everyone who may have had contact with Duncan will be monitored for 21 days, the normal incubation period for the disease.
Duncan had passed an airport health screening in Liberia, where doctors had measured his temperature as normal and found no signs of Ebola symptoms. But a few days after he arrived he began to have a fever, headache and abdominal pain.
He went to the emergency room of Texas Health Presbyterian on Sept. 24, but was sent home. By Sept. 27, his condition had worsened. An ambulance took him back to the hospital, where he stayed in isolation.
The hospital has changed its account several times about when Duncan arrived and what he said about his travel history. It has acknowledged that Duncan told them on his first visit that he came from West Africa.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press
we expect to see some people with fever.
spread by mosquitos. extremely common disease ins set africa. also known in healthcare as fever that comes and goes
not be surprising if we saw individuals with malaria among those wh gave fever.