Hazmat team is at quarantined Dallas apartment where Ebola patient stayed
(CNN) — A hazardous materials team has arrived at the Dallas apartment where four contacts of U.S. Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan are under quarantine.
The family members — Duncan’s partner, who asked to be referred to only by her first name, Louise, along with her son and two nephews in their 20s — have been ordered to stay there until October 19. The sheets, clothes and towels Duncan used are in plastic bags in one of the apartment’s rooms, health officials say.
Ebola can live outside the body on those kinds of materials, says CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The length of time it remains active depends on the environment — from hours to days — but it is possible for someone to contract the disease from touching those materials.
So far, no one from the cleaning crew has been allowed inside the apartment, said Brad Smith of Cleaning Guys.
Smith said his company is ready to go, but a permit issue is stopping them from entering. Smith says a specialized permit is needed to transport this type of unprecedented hazardous waste on Texas highways. Cleaning Guys specializes in hazmat and biohazard cleaning services, but it does not transport the materials.
Hazmat teams still do not have permits to dispose of the soiled items taken from the apartment, said Dr. David Lakey of the Texas Department of State Health Services. The items will be moved to a secure location in Dallas County until the appropriate permits are obtained, he said Friday.
Ebola can spread through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids like blood, feces or vomit. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokeswoman Abbigail Tumpey says the CDC considers materials contaminated with Ebola as regular medical waste, and as such, can be disposed of as medical waste. But she said the Department of Transportation considers Ebola to be a Category A agent, which means it’s illegal to transport.
“The CDC and the DOT regulations have been in conflict. It’s been an ongoing issue that we’ve been dealing with.”
A federal Department of Transportation official with knowledge of the situation told CNN that by the end of the day, a special permit will be issued for a waste management company to remove Ebola-contaminated material in certain areas around Dallas.
Health official: 50 people being monitored in Dallas
Duncan was in Dallas visiting his son and his son’s mother, said his half-brother Wilfred Smallwood. Duncan landed in Dallas on September 20 and started feeling sick several days later. He went to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on September 26 with a fever and abdominal pain, hospital officials say. He was sent home with antibiotics but returned in an ambulance two days later, when he was admitted and placed in isolation.
On September 30, a blood test confirmed Duncan had Ebola.
Duncan is in serious but stable condition, health officials say. They are monitoring 50 people in the area for possible Ebola symptoms, Lakey said Friday. These are people Duncan came in contact with while he was contagious. Monitoring means a public health worker visits the contacts twice a day to take temperatures and to ask if they are experiencing any symptoms. So far, none have, Lakey said.
Explaining the increase in the number of patients being followed, Dr. Beth Bell of the CDC said officials are casting a wide net. “We have a low level of concern about the vast majority of these people that we’re following,” she said.
Three of the people being monitored may be Dallas County sheriff’s deputies who were placed on leave after helping deliver court orders to the four family members, Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Carmen Castro said Friday.
The trio escorted a Dallas County Health and Human Services worker on Wednesday who was delivering the orders. Castro says the deputies’ leave is precautionary for their peace of mind.
On Friday, Dallas County Health and Human Services director Zachary Thompson told CNN’s “New Day” that the Ebola situation in the city is “under control.”
“It is contained,” Thompson said. The Ebola patient’s “family is being monitored. There is no outbreak. And so therefore everyone should ease their fears and allow public health officials … to respond to this issue.”
More U.S. troops will be sent to West Africa
The U.S. military could send as many as 4,000 troops to the Ebola-afflicted countries to help in the response, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said Friday.
The United States had already committed to sending 3,000 troops to the region to provide engineering and logistics support.
About 200 U.S. troops are in West Africa now, Kirby said.
The U.S. troops will not treat patients, but will help establish health facilities and medical treatment units “so that the health care workers can do their jobs,” Kirby said.
Another Ebola patient?
Howard University Hospital in Washington has admitted a low-risk patient with symptoms “that could be associated with Ebola,” hospital spokeswoman Kerry-Ann Hamilton said Friday. The patient, who was not named, recently traveled to Nigeria and presented with the symptoms upon his or her return, she said. The patient is in stable condition.
“In an abundance of caution, we have activated the appropriate infection control protocols, including isolating the patient,” Hamilton said. “Our medical team continues to evaluate and monitor progress in close collaboration with the CDC and the Department of Health.”
Ebola has killed more than 3,400 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Nigeria has also had a small outbreak of the virus in recent months, with five confirmed deaths. But no new cases have been reported in the country since August 31.
NBC cameraman infected
Nebraska Medical Center announced Friday that it had received word from the U.S. State Department that another patient with the Ebola virus would be transported to Omaha for treatment.
“The patient is scheduled to arrive in Omaha Monday morning and will be taken to the med center’s Biocontainment Unit for treatment immediately after arrival,” the hospital said in a statement.
It is not clear if this patient is American cameraman Ashoka Mukpo, who was diagnosed with Ebola in Monrovia on Thursday.
Mukpo, 33, a freelance cameraman for NBC News, started feeling achy and tired Wednesday, and he quarantined himself. A day later, a test at a Doctors Without Borders facility in Monrovia confirmed that he had Ebola. NBC News has said the entire team will return to the U.S. soon aboard a private charter plane.
Dr. Rick Sacra was recently treated for Ebola at the same facility in Nebraska. He was released on September 25.
Five children being monitored
One of five children supposedly being monitored at home for Ebola symptoms went to Sam Tasby Middle School on Wednesday morning, district spokesman Andre Riley tells CNN.
“We’re not sure why the Tasby student showed up for school on Wednesday but, once he was identified, he was asked to go to the nurse’s office so that a parent could be contacted,” Riley said in an email. “During the limited time he was on campus, he showed no symptoms.”
The students have been asked not to attend school “out of an abundance of caution,” Riley said.
Questions about hospital procedure
The CDC has reissued its guidance to U.S. health providers about screening potential Ebola patients after Texas hospital officials acknowledged that Duncan’s travel history wasn’t “fully communicated” to doctors when he first came to the hospital on September 26.
“A travel history was taken, but it wasn’t communicated to the people who were making the decision. … It was a mistake. They dropped the ball,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
In its early stages, Ebola looks just like a lot of other illnesses. The CDC is also distributing pamphlets to hospitals in the hope of increasing awareness. One pamphlet is a checklist for patients being evaluated for Ebola. The other is a flowchart for evaluating travelers who have returned from an Ebola-affected country.
Did he lie to come to the United States?
Liberia Airport Authority officials say they may prosecute Duncan if he lied on his health screening questionnaire before leaving for the United States.
Duncan answered no to questions on a travel form about whether he was exposed to the deadly virus, said Binyah Kesselly of the Liberia Airport Authority. Yet Duncan had been helping Ebola patients, including caring for one at a residence outside the capital of Monrovia, Liberian community leader Tugbeh Chieh Tugbeh told CNN.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told Canadian public broadcaster CBC that she would consult with lawyers to decide what to do with Duncan when he returns home.
“The fact that he knew (he was exposed to the virus) and he left the country is unpardonable, quite frankly,” Johnson Sirleaf said.
“With the U.S. doing so much to help us fight Ebola, and again one of our compatriots didn’t take due care, and so, he’s gone there and … put some Americans in a state of fear, and put them at some risk, and so I feel very saddened by that and very angry with him, to tell you the truth.”
Duncan was screened three times before he boarded his flight in Liberia bound for Brussels, the Liberia Airport Authority says. His temperature was a consistent 97.3 degrees Fahrenheit, said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden.