Ebola update: 80 people in Dallas may have been exposed to the virus

Texas health officials are scrambling to identify and isolate anyone who may have come in contact with the disease

Published October 2, 2014 2:04PM (EDT)

Scanning electron microscopic image of Ebola virions                                                         (Public Library of Science)
Scanning electron microscopic image of Ebola virions (Public Library of Science)

The first Ebola patient to develop symptoms of the disease in the United States, Thomas Eric Duncan, is in "serious but stable condition" at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, while officials scramble to identify and isolate the people he may have come into contact with during the two days between which he developed a fever and was readmitted to the hospital.

Out of an "abundance of caution," Texas and Dallas county officials ordered four of Duncan's close family members to remain home in isolation at least through October 19, and to provide blood samples for monitoring purposes. More than 80 others who came into contact with Duncan are being monitored for symptoms of the virus as well. "We have tried and true protocols to protect the public and stop the spread of this disease," said David Lakey, Texas's health commissioner. Among those: keeping a close watch on potential patients, a system easier to pull off in the U.S. than in West Africa, where 7,178 cases and 3,338 deaths in five countries have been attributed to the virus since December.

The Department of Health and Human Services is in "advanced discussions" to up the production of Zmapp, the experimental drug given to two American aid workers this summer. The New York Times reports that federal officials, along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, are enlisting the help of multiple manufacturers to safely develop the drug. There's been limited testing to determine its effectiveness, however, and at best, only a few hundred or thousand treatment courses will likely be available by early next year -- not nearly enough as would be needed if the epidemic isn't contained.

West Africa, which remains woefully unprepared for the scale of the outbreak. The New York Times has this stomach-churning report from a hospital in one of Sierra Leone's largest cities:

“Where’s the corpse?” the burial-team worker shouted, kicking open the door of the isolation ward at the government hospital here. The body was right in front of him, a solidly built young man sprawled out on the floor all night, his right hand twisted in an awkward clench.

The other patients, normally padlocked inside, were too sick to look up as the body was hauled away. Nurses, some not wearing gloves and others in street clothes, clustered by the door as pools of the patients’ bodily fluids spread to the threshold. A worker kicked another man on the floor to see if he was still alive. The man’s foot moved and the team kept going. It was 1:30 in the afternoon.

In the next ward, a 4-year-old girl lay on the floor in urine, motionless, bleeding from her mouth, her eyes open. A corpse lay in the corner — a young woman, legs akimbo, who had died overnight. A small child stood on a cot watching as the team took the body away, stepping around a little boy lying immobile next to black buckets of vomit. They sprayed the body, and the little girl on the floor, with chlorine as they left...

"The best way to protect the U.S. is to stop the outbreak in West Africa," Beth Bell, Director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the CDC, recently testified. The U.S. is sending 1,400 troops to Liberia this month to help contain its spread.

By Lindsay Abrams

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Dallas Ebola Texas West Africa Zmapp