A Doctors Without Borders physician who recently returned from West Africa is at a New York hospital for isolation and testing for the Ebola virus, authorities said Thursday afternoon.
The 33-year-old physician, employed at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, developed a fever, nausea, pain and fatigue Wednesday night, city officials said. On Thursday morning, he was taken to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan for testing. The doctor, who returned from West Africa about 10 days ago, has been identified as Craig Spencer.
At a news conference Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio sought to soothe public concerns about the spread of the deadly virus, saying that “careful protocols were followed every step of the way” in the city’s handling of the case. The doctor has “worked closely” with health officials, the mayor said.
The doctor exhibited symptoms of the Ebola virus for “a very brief period of time” and had direct contact with “very few people” in New York, de Blasio said. “The important thing to remember here is, until we have full information, we can’t draw conclusions. So we want to be careful not to make assumptions until all the testing is done.”
Physician just returned from the ‘hot zone’
The 33-year-old physician recently returned from Guinea, one of the West African countries currently battling an Ebola outbreak. The patient traveled through Brussels, Belgium, and arrived at JFK Airport, law enforcement sources said. He arrived in the United States on Oct. 17.
In a statement, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital said the doctor was “a dedicated humanitarian” who went to “an area of medical crisis to help a desperately underserved population.”
“He is a committed and responsible physician who always puts his patients first,” the hospital statement said. “He has not been to work at our hospital and has not seen any patients at our hospital since his return from overseas.”
Doctor did not quarantine himself upon returning
Federal officials said today that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be sending a team of specialists in epidemiology, infection control, and communications to NYC later tonight in preparation for the possible case.
Investigators are taking the case seriously because of his recent exposure to Ebola patients. It also appears the doctor didn’t quarantine himself following his return, city officials said. The physician took a car service – Uber – to a bowling alley in Brooklyn on Wednesday night, according to officials.
In a statement Thursday, Doctors Without Borders confirmed that the physicians recently returned from West Africa and was “engaged in regular health monitoring.” The doctor contacted Doctors Without Borders Thursday to report a fever, the statement said. Authorities have quarantined his girlfriend, with whom he was spending time since his return from Africa.
The doctor began feeling sluggish a couple of days ago, but it wasn’t until Thursday, when he developed 103-degree fever, that he contacted Doctors Without Borders, authorities said. The case came to light after the New York Fire Department received a call shortly before noon Thursday about a sick person in Manhattan. The patient was then taken to Bellevue.
Risk to public remains low
A statement from the New York Health Department said preliminary test results are expected in the next 12 hours. The health department said a special ambulance unit transported a patient suffering from a fever and gastrointestinal symptoms.
Bellevue Hospital is designated for the “isolation, identification and treatment of potential Ebola patients” in the city, the statement said. “As a further precaution, beginning today (Thursday), the Health Department’s team of disease detectives immediately began to actively trace all of the patient’s contacts to identify anyone who may be at potential risk,” the statement said.
“The chances of the average New Yorker contracting Ebola are extremely slim,” the statement said, adding that the disease is spread by direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. Bellevue Hospital is one of the eight hospitals statewide that Gov. Andrew Cuomo designated earlier this month as part of an Ebola preparedness plan.
Ebola has killed nearly 5,000 people, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. But fears about its spread have escalated since the first person diagnosed with the disease in the United States was hospitalized in Texas last month.
Thomas Eric Duncan, who had flown from Liberia to Dallas, died on October 8. Two nurses who treated him became infected with the virus and are undergoing treatment, with the cases raising questions about the ability of local and federal officials to deal with an outbreak in the United States.