Health officials are trying to trace more than 100 people at risk after a Liberian carried deadly Ebola to North America while the four people who came in closest contact with him have been ordered quarantined at home as authorities seek to contain the killer virus and allay public fears.
EBOLA: WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
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- Where is the virus? View a map of Ebola cases, 1976-2014
- Canada’s response: Read the travel advisory
Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian, remained deathly ill in a Dallas hospital – isolated in an otherwise empty ward and treated by doctors and nurses in full-body protective suits and masks.
"We can contain any spread of Ebola in the United States," Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Thursday.
Still, the extraordinary measures under way to isolate the Liberian traveller, the Texans he was visiting and their apartment complex, stood in sharp contrast to the overwhelmed health services of impoverished West African nations where the number of Ebola victims is doubling every three weeks and a CDC's worst-case scenario grimly estimates 1.4 million may be stricken within months.
Police cordoned off the Dallas apartment where Mr. Duncan stayed with a woman, her children and two nephews, after arriving Sept. 20 from Monrovia, via Brussels and Dulles airport near Washington, D.C. Inside the complex, Louise Troh, told CNN that she, along with her 13-year-old child and adult nephews had been quarantined.
At least one of the four had not fully co-operated with an earlier, unofficial request from authorities that they remain indoors. So Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued a "control order" on Thursday confining them to the apartment for the duration of the 21-day period during which Ebola symptoms can appear.
In an Associated Press report, Ms. Troh, who apparently is the mother of at least one of Mr. Duncan's children, asked, "Who wants to be locked up?"
She also told CNN that none of those in the apartment has shown any symptoms but were taking their temperatures every few hours.
The sweat-soaked sheets were still on the bed where Mr. Duncan had slept. Food was being delivered and, outside, municipal workers were swabbing the parking lot and sidewalks with bleach.
Meanwhile, health officials say they have managed to locate most of the more than 100 people who had contact with Mr. Duncan or those close to him after he first exhibited symptoms four days after arriving from Liberia. A few, including the three-person ambulance crew that took him to hospital, are under voluntary home quarantine. Others are being asked to report any symptoms immediately.
"We have tried-and-true protocols to protect the public and stop the spread of this disease," said Texas Health Commissioner David Lakey.
According to Liberian officials, Mr. Duncan, who was then symptom-free, passed screening before he boarded his flight but neglected to tell officials he had been in close contact with Ebola victims. He reportedly helped carry a desperately ill and pregnant woman to hospital where she was turned away because the facilities was already full. The 19-year-old woman later died of Ebola, according to published reports.
In Monrovia, the Ministry of Justice said they intend to prosecute Mr. Duncan if he survives and returns to Liberia for lying on the forms he filled out as he left for the United States. "We expect people to do the honourable thing," said Binyah Kesselly, who heads the Liberia Airport Authority in Monrovia.
More than 3,300 have died of Ebola in the world's worst outbreak of the contagious disease that consumes the body's organs. So far, the outbreak has been contained to four West African nations but fears of global spread remain.
Ebola can spread only through direct contact with bodily fluids, including sweat, blood, feces and vomit, from an infected individual. But some worry the virus may mutate so it can be spread like influenza by airborne droplets.
"The longer it moves around in human hosts in the virulent melting pot that is West Africa, the more chances increase that it could mutate," said Anthony Banbury, the new head of the UN's special Ebola mission. In a BBC interview from Monrovia, he warned that far greater international effort is needed to stop the disease.
"It's clear that the international community has to have a rapid and very strong response to get this disease under control before it wreaks much more massive havoc."
While the Obama administration sought to allay fears at home and abroad, not everyone was convinced.
"It is America – our doctors, our scientists, our know-how – that leads the fight to contain and combat the Ebola epidemic," U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday.
But at Atlanta's international airport, one of the nation's busiest and located close to the CDC, Gil Mobley, a Missouri microbiologist and emergency trauma doctor, cleared security wearing a full protective suit with "CDC is lying" stencilled on his back to protest what he said was inadequate screening at U.S. airports.