The first lab tests of a Kansas City, Kan., man admitted to the University of Kansas Hospital on Monday indicate that he does not have Ebola, the hospital said Tuesday.
The man will remain in a hospital isolation unit until results of confirmatory tests by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention become available in the next day or two. Hospital officials are hopeful.
“It’s pretty certain that he doesn’t have Ebola,” said Lee Norman, chief medical officer at KU Hospital.
That news may bring a sigh of relief to Kansas City, but across the nation Ebola anxiety is running high, even though only two cases have been diagnosed in the U.S. so far.
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A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in recent days found that nearly two-thirds of Americans are concerned about a widespread Ebola epidemic in the United States. More than 40 percent of respondents said they are “very” or “somewhat worried” about the possibility that they or immediate family members might catch the virus even though the virus is far less contagious than common illnesses like the flu. Ebola becomes contagious only after its symptoms appear, and the virus is transmitted only through contact with bodily fluids, such as blood or saliva.
A chorus of mostly Republican politicians, including Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, has called on President Barack Obama to ban travel from the three West African nations — Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia — where almost 9,000 people have contracted Ebola and more than 4,400 have died in an ongoing epidemic. Obama has tightened airport screenings of travelers from those countries, both in Africa and the U.S., but has resisted banning travel.
Meanwhile, the public’s fear of flying has escalated and turned passengers who are ill and African into suspected Ebola carriers. In recent days, teams in hazmat suits have escorted passengers off airliners landing in Boston and Newark, N.J. A plane was quarantined at the Las Vegas airport until Ebola was ruled out as the reason a passenger became ill. Similar incidents have occurred at airports in Midland, Texas, Birmingham, Ala., and Nashville, Tenn.
Although hospitals in Kansas City and nationwide have repeatedly expressed confidence in their ability to handle Ebola, the public’s trust has been shaken in recent days by a series of missteps at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.
The hospital failed to admit a man with Ebola symptoms and a travel history to Africa when he first came to its emergency room. That man, Thomas Eric Duncan, later died of Ebola at the hospital.
Adding to the concern was the news that a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian who cared for Duncan has developed Ebola, caused by what the CDC termed a “breach in protocol” in the procedures followed for protecting health care workers from infection. The nurse, Nina Pham, 26, has received a transfusion from a doctor who recovered from Ebola in hopes that antibodies in his blood will speed her recovery.
“I’m doing well and want to thank everyone for their kind wishes and prayers,” Pham said Tuesday in a statement. “I am blessed by the support of family and friends and am blessed to be cared for by the best team of doctors and nurses in the world here at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.”
The precautions taken by KU Hospital while caring for a patient suspected of having Ebola — a team of specially trained nurses, protective clothing, an isolation room with its own ventilation system and medical equipment — have “made us be at the top of our game,” Norman said.
The patient, a man in his 40s, was a medical officer on a commercial ship off the coast of West Africa. The man treated patients for a variety of ailments and was exposed to typhoid fever, an infectious disease that shares some of the symptoms of Ebola, such as fever, diarrhea and vomiting. The man called the hospital after returning home. On Monday morning, he was met at the hospital’s emergency department and taken to an isolation room.
The patient has been receiving intravenous fluids and is recovering steadily, Norman said.
“Today, it was calm” in the intensive care unit where the patient is staying, he said. “I feel bad the public doesn’t have that sense of calm. This (caring for an Ebola patient) can be done well and safely.”
Star news services contributed to this report.