New information regarding how Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, came into contact with the Ebola virus has been released. It appears Duncan’s compassion for an Ebola-stricken pregnant woman is responsible for his contact with the virus.
The New York Times reports that Duncan, a resident of Monrovia, Liberia, was helping a pregnant neighbor when he came into contact with the deadly virus. In a pattern often seen here in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, the family of the woman, Marthalene Williams, 19, took her by taxi to a hospital with Mr. Duncan’s help on Sept. 15 after failing to get an ambulance, according to her parents, Emmanuel and Amie Williams. She was convulsing and seven months pregnant, they said. Turned away from a hospital for lack of space in its Ebola treatment ward, the family said it took Ms. Williams back home in the evening, and she died hours later, around 3 am.
According to the Daily Mail, many of those who had helped the dying woman are now dead themselves. The landlord’s son and three neighbors who came in contact with the woman also died soon afterwards. Though Duncan had come into contact with the woman, he was not displaying any signs for Ebola when he left Liberia to fly to Dallas to visit family members.
Many are asking why Duncan was allowed to fly when he had so recently come into contact with an Ebola-infected person. However, current policy dictates that only those displaying symptoms of the disease are barred from flying. But Ebola can hide in the system for up to 21 days, raising serious concerns the disease will start turning up around the world. This has led to many calling for the US government to restrict travel between affected countries and the US, but the White House has deemed the move unnecessary.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that there was no change in airline policy currently since Ebola can only be spread when symptoms are present. However, individuals who have come into contact with infected individuals should monitor themselves closely for symptoms and seek prompt medical care. It appears that Duncan attempted to do just that; however, the Texas emergency room failed to properly diagnose his symptoms.
In what many feel is the most frightening part of this incident, Duncan submitted himself to the hospital when he first started feeling sick and was initially sent home with antibiotics even though he told hospital workers that he had recently arrived from Liberia. He then spent two days getting sicker and sicker in a Dallas apartment, coming in contact with several family members, before he went back to the hospital and was finally diagnosed with Ebola.
There is now a second patient who came into contact with Duncan, who has been admitted to the Texas hospital exhibiting signs of the Ebola virus.