Ebola has not made its way on board a Carnival Cruise lines ship after all, despite panicked passengers who broke down in frightened tears and decried the Carnival Magic ship as “a floating petri dish.” But a health care lab worker, who reportedly was involved with the Thomas Duncan Ebola case in Texas tested negative for the virus, health officials said Sunday.
When Carnival Magic, which carries abut 4,000 vacationers on any given cruise, stopped without explanation off the coast of Belize, Ebola rumors quickly spread throughout the ship’s passengers. When it was learned that the lab worker, who has not been named publicly, was on board the cruise, many passengers lost all composure, and what one passenger described as “utter panic” ensued.
Cruise officials announced over the Carnival Magic public address system that a passenger on board might have Ebola.
“People are scared. I’ve seen people crying. You’re using the same buffet line as someone else, the same waiters, the folks that clean the state rooms,” said cruise patron John Malone. “It’s really difficult to control any type of virus that’s on a cruise ship. It’s like a floating petri dish. It spreads very rapidly.”
The lab worker had reportedly handled a specimen taken from Duncan, a Liberian man who died of Ebola symptoms at a Dallas hospital on October 8, after traveling there from the west African country. But the lab worker showed no Ebola symptoms, and the disease can be spread only by patients who are symptomatic.
The health care worker reportedly handed the sample about four days before boarding the cruise ship, and the cruise was set to last seven days, placing it well within the maximum 21-day incubation period before Ebola symptoms appear in a patient, though symptoms can sometimes appear in as few as two days.
The woman and her husband voluntarily quarantined themselves in their room as a precaution anyway, until a Coast Guard helicopter came with medical professionals who took blood samples from the cruising couple.
When the tests came back clean, the woman and her husband were allowed to disembark the ship along with the rest of the passengers. They then drove themselves home without further supervision.
“The Galveston County Health Authority has made the assessment that there is no evidence of a public health threat to cruise passengers or to Galveston County. The passenger and her travel partner have been allowed to disembark without restrictions,” said a prepared statement from health officials in Galveston, Texas, where the cruise ship docked.
When the woman got on the ship October 12, the Centers for Disease Control require only that health care workers “self-monitor” for Ebola. Those monitoring restrictions have since been tightened.