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Officials In Dallas Race To Make Sure Ebola Virus Doesn't Spread


Here are some updates on the global spread of Ebola.


The victims in Liberia now include another American. He was working for NBC News at the time. The full NBC crew is now being flown to the United States. They'll be in quarantine.

INSKEEP: Quarantine is also the latest measure being taken in Dallas. Four people are being kept in their home.

CORNISH: They had hosted Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who arrived in the United States and grew sick from Ebola. As many as 100 people may have come in contact with Duncan in the Dallas area.

INSKEEP: So let's talk about that hundred people. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel is covering the story in Dallas. Hi, Geoff.


INSKEEP: A hundred people possibly contacting this man. That can sound scary. But who are they, exactly, and what is the risk here?

BRUMFIEL: Of these hundred people, only about 12 or maybe 18 came in close contact with Duncan. These are family members, emergency room workers, EMTs, people who were really, you know, touching him when he was sick. They're being watched very, very closely by health authorities. They're having their temperatures taken twice a day. The rest of the contacts were incidental, say, someone who maybe was in the emergency room when he came in; that's according to the CDC.

INSKEEP: So low risk there is what you're saying in that case.

BRUMFIEL: Lower risk, but the CDC still wants to contact every one of those people and talk to them to find out what kind of contact they had.

INSKEEP: Sounds like a big job.

BRUMFIEL: It is a big job. It's called contact tracing, and the CDC has a nine-person team on the ground here that's out there doing that right now. They really need to get to all these individuals and talk to them just to make sure - if there was some incidental contact that was a little closer than they thought, they need to know that because they need to catch symptoms right at the moment they start. That's the way you stop Ebola from spreading.

INSKEEP: Stop Ebola from spreading; you don't want people to have close contact with other people. But let's just remember it is not so easy to get this disease from another person, is it?

BRUMFIEL: If people aren't displaying symptoms, you can't get Ebola from them. It's that simple. And even if they are, the only way you can really get it is by getting into contact with their blood or their vomit and then maybe touching your eye, touching your mouth incidentally. So it's not something you can get real easily.

INSKEEP: OK, so we have this tracing going on in the Dallas area. And at the same time, we mentioned the four people who have been quarantined, family members of Mr. Duncan. Why quarantine them?

BRUMFIEL: These family members were living with Duncan when he was very ill. So they're the ones who are most at risk of getting Ebola. And all health officials are saying is that they needed to take their temperatures twice a day, and they didn't have a lot of confidence they were going to be able to do that. They sort of implied yesterday family was coming and going. They weren't always there. So they made this decision to put them under a quarantine. They can't leave their apartment, and they can't have visitors without permission.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute - so is that just for the convenience of health authorities or because they're terrified that these people are going to spread the disease?

BRUMFIEL: Well, I mean, it's because you - as I said earlier, you really need to catch these symptoms the moment they start to develop. That's the way you stop Ebola from spreading. And putting them in quarantine will do that. Also, they won't be out in the community, so that will make it, you know, theoretically safer. But really, these individuals are the ones who are at the greatest risk of getting Ebola themselves. And keeping them all in an apartment together - I spoke to one health expert yesterday. He said there might be a risk that they could communicate it to each other. Duncan's bed sheets, his clothes, the mattress he slept on, it's all still in the apartment. It could potentially pose a contamination hazard if there's fluids in there. So this quarantine is - some people are questioning whether it's the right thing to do. Another problem with it is it sends a message to the community that, you know, if you get in touch with the CDC if you start to have symptoms, the police may come to your door and seal you in.


BRUMFIEL: And that might create problems for the CDC team who's trying to do this contact tracing.

INSKEEP: Geoff, I want to ask about one other thing. Of course there've been many questions about why it was that the man with Ebola at one point checked into a hospital and was sent away again. Is it better understood how that happened?

BRUMFIEL: Yeah, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital has released more details about how this was overlooked. What happened was last week, Duncan showed up sick at the ER. Now, he told the nurse he'd come from Africa, and the nurse recorded that. But the electronic system was set up so the doctors never saw that. Duncan went home and came back a few days later in an ambulance. In between that time, he may have infected other family members. So this little misstep could have had big implications.

INSKEEP: Problem of communication. Geoff, thanks very much.

BRUMFIEL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Geoff Brumfiel, speaking this morning from our member station in Dallas, KERA. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include science and space, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.