Health officials in Dallas said they are closely monitoring a possible second Ebola patient who had close contact with the Liberian man identified as the first case of the disease discovered inside the United States. A health official said “there may be another case that is a close associate” of the Liberian, Thomas Eric Duncan, 40, who remains in critical condition and in isolation at a Dallas hospital. Duncan is the first person to develop symptoms outside of Africa during the current epidemic that has officially killed more than 3,300 people. Duncan had direct contact with a woman infected with Ebola in Monrovia, Liberia, four days before he left for the U.S. Duncan took 19-year-old Marthalene Williams, who was seven months pregnant, to a hospital in a taxi. They were turned away and returned to Williams’s home that night, where she died at around 3 a.m. Duncan carried Williams back to the family home that evening, neighbors said, because she was so sick she couldn’t walk.
Duncan first arrived at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas on Sept. 26. The hospital failed to diagnose him with Ebola, even though he indicated he had been in Liberia, and sent him home with a prescription for antibiotics. He was readmitted to the hospital two days later and placed in an isolation unit. On Wednesday, health officials announced that up to 18 people were exposed to the virus via Duncan, including children. In addition to the person officials said may be a second Ebola patient, five Dallas-area students are being monitored for the disease. The children had been in school since they were exposed to the virus, but were removed. “The students did not have any symptoms and so the odds of them passing on any sort of virus is very low,” said Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Mike Miles.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that the U.S. is days away from settling the critical question of how hospitals should handle and dispose of medical waste from Ebola patients. Experts have warned that conflicting U.S. regulations over how such waste should be transported could make it difficult for hospitals to safely care for patients with Ebola.