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A Hospital Sent the US's First Ebola Patient Home for Two Days After He Was Sick

It's the first time a case of the latest Ebola has been diagnosed outside of Africa.
September 30, 2014, 10:20pm

The first case of Ebola has officially been diagnosed in the United States after the Centers for Disease Control confirmed that an unnamed patient in Dallas has the disease. What now?

Well, as we've noted before, the disease is only spread through bodily fluids after someone presents actual Ebola, so we're not all doomed. But that doesn't mean this case is going to be the only one we see in the country.

In fact, CDC director Thomas Frieden admits that the man, who is visiting American family members from Liberia, was sent home to his family's house from the hospital for two days after he was initially sick. Frieden also says the man was sick for a total of four days in Texas before he was ultimately admitted to the hospital on Sunday. That's not good.

In a press conference, Frieden said that "because the initial symptoms are nonspecific"—that is, they are similar to flu or fever—the patient was sent home for two days, when he could have theoretically infected others.

"We're trying to identify all the people who may have had contact with people while he could have been infectious," Frieden said. "Once identified, they'll be monitored for 21 days after for Ebola. If they have the fever, the same criteria are used."

It's unclear what the patient was doing for the four days he was sick and not hospitalized: "I think a handful [of people exposed] is the right characterization," he said. "Several family members. There may have been one or two or three other community members. Our approach in this kind of case is to cast the net widely. We're trying to identify people who may not have even had direct contact."

You can see how that could quickly become problematic, and it's one of the reasons why the math behind Ebola is so scary: If the disease spread to others, they likely won't show symptoms for a few days, and some won't show symptoms for as many as three weeks.

The trees of contact can quickly become very complicated and that's how you end up having major outbreaks like the ones we've seen in West Africa. That doesn't necessarily mean there will be an outbreak in the United States, of course.

Frieden said that he has "no doubt that we will control this importation of ebola so it does not spread widely in this country. It is certainly possible someone who had contact with this individual could develop Ebola, but there is no doubt in my mind we will stop it here."

America's healthcare system is completely different than what we see in West Africa. Our healthcare infrastructure that is not as easily overwhelmed. At the same time, if a few people in the US are unfortunate enough to contract it, we could see pockets of the disease continue to pop up.