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NYC Doctor Diagnosed With Ebola

By Brenda Goodman, MA
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

Oct. 24, 2014 -- A doctor in New York City, who recently returned to the U.S. after working in Guinea, has Ebola, health officials said Thursday night. Craig Spencer, 33, is an emergency medicine physician at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

He'd been treating Ebola patients while working with the aid group Doctors Without Borders. He was placed in a quarantined unit in Bellevue Hospital on Thursday.

Hoping not to repeat the same missteps made in Dallas, city officials jumped into action. They activated an emergency operations center in Brooklyn to track down anyone who might have come into contact with Spencer. Speaking in both English and Spanish, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio gave a calming message to the city, the most populous in the nation.

"There is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed," he said. "Ebola is very difficult to contract."

"New Yorkers who have not been exposed to a patient's bodily fluids are not at all at risk," he said.

"We have been preparing for months for the threat posed by Ebola. We have clear and strong protocols which are being scrupulously followed," he added.

CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, said the agency had been in close contact with Bellevue since before Spencer was admitted, helping that facility prepare for the possibility of caring for Ebola patients.

Frieden said another strike team of CDC Ebola response experts were on the way to assist the medical staff who are caring for the doctor.

De Blasio said other hospitals in the city are also prepared in case more patients come forward.

"We had the advantage of learning from the Dallas experience," said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo said they've identified four people Spencer may have had close contact with when he was having symptoms. One of those people is his fiancee. He said all are being quarantined.

Timeline for Spencer

Spencer didn't have symptoms when he returned to the U.S., said Mary Travis Bassett, MD, New York City's health commissioner.

He was rushed to Bellevue and isolated on Thursday morning after he reported a 103-degree fever and vomiting to health authorities. A blood test confirmed the Ebola infection a few hours later.

"He did not have a fever until [Thursday] morning," Bassett said.

The previous evening, though, he had taken the subway several times and had gone bowling at The Gutter bowling alley before he took an Uber cab home. He also went to The High Line, a public park, and may have eaten at a restaurant, Bassett said. He told authorities he started feeling run down on Tuesday.

Bassett said the bowling alley had closed as a precaution as the investigation continued.

But Bassett stressed that his lack symptoms made it very unlikely that he infected anyone else as he moved around the city. That's because viral levels build in the body over time. People become more infectious the sicker they get.

"He did not have a stage of disease that would have created a risk of contagion on the subway," she said.

Disease detectives are hard at work tracking any other people who might have been in contact with him. Bassett said they'll use the travel history on his metro card to follow his movements.

Spencer is the ninth person to be treated for Ebola in the U.S. since the recent outbreak in West Africa began.

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SOURCES: Bill de Blasio, Mayor, New York, New York.Andrew Cuomo, Governor, New York.Tom Frieden, MD, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta.Mary Travis Bassett, MD, Health Commissioner, New York CityPress conference, New York City officials.

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