Oct 2, 2014 5:15 PM
Family that hosted Ebola patient confined to home
The Associated Press
DALLAS (AP) Four members of a family the U.S. Ebola patient was staying with were confined to their Texas home under armed guard Thursday as the circle of people possibly exposed to the virus widened and Liberian authorities said they would prosecute the man for allegedly lying on an airport questionnaire.
The unusual confinement order was made after the family was "noncompliant" with a request not to leave their apartment, according to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.
Texas State Health Commissioner David Lakey said the confinement would help ensure the relatives can be closely watched, including checking them for fevers over the next three weeks.
"We didn't have the confidence we would have been able to monitor them the way that we needed to," he said.
Several days of food have been delivered to the apartment. The family will not be allowed to receive visitors, officials said.
Officials were concerned about the cleanliness of the home and hired a cleaning service to come, Lakey said.
"The house conditions need to be improved," he said.
The infected man's belongings, including clothes and possibly bed sheets, are bagged inside the home so the family cannot come into contact with them until they are removed, Jenkins said.
Elsewhere, Texas health officials expanded their efforts to contain the virus, reaching out to about 80 people who may have had direct contact with Thomas Eric Duncan or someone close to him.
None of the people is showing symptoms, but public-health officials have educated them about Ebola and told them to notify medical workers if they begin to feel ill, Erikka Neroes, a spokeswoman for the Dallas County Health and Human Services agency, said Thursday.
The group will be monitored to see if anyone seeks medical care during the three weeks immediately following the time of contact, Neroes said.
The 80 people include 12 to 18 who came in direct contact with the infected man, as well as others known to have had contact with them, she said.
"This is a big spider web" of people involved, Neroes said.
The initial group includes three members of the ambulance crew that took Duncan to the hospital, plus a handful of schoolchildren.
The virus that causes Ebola is not airborne and can only be spread through close contact with someone who has symptoms. People have to come into direct contact with the patient's bodily fluids blood, sweat, vomit, feces, urine, saliva or semen and those fluids must have an entry point.
For example, people might get infected by handling soiled clothing or bed sheets and then touching their nose, mouth or eyes, or if they are not wearing gloves while doing those tasks and have a cut on their hand.
"If you sit next to someone on the bus, you're not exposed," CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said.
In Liberia, authorities announced plans to prosecute Duncan, alleging that he lied on a form about not having any contact with an infected person.
Duncan filled out a series of questions about his health and activities before leaving on his journey to Dallas. On a Sept. 19 form obtained by The Associated Press, he answered no to all of them.
Among other questions, the form asked whether Duncan had cared for an Ebola patient or touched the body of anyone who had died in an area affected by Ebola.
"We expect people to do the honorable thing," said Binyah Kesselly, chairman of the board of directors of the Liberia Airport Authority in Monrovia. The agency took the case to the Ministry of Justice, which will formally prosecute it.
Neighbors in the Liberian capital believe Duncan become infected when he helped bundle a sick pregnant neighbor into a taxi a few weeks ago and set off with her to find treatment.
The case has raised questions about whether a disease that has killed 3,300 people in West Africa could spread in the United States. U.S. health officials say they remain confident they can keep it in check.
Duncan arrived in Dallas on Sept. 20 to visit the family and fell ill a few days later. His sister, Mai Wureh, identified him as the infected man in an interview with The Associated Press.
A Dallas emergency room sent Duncan home last week, even though he told a nurse that he had been in disease-ravaged West Africa. The decision by Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital to release him could have put others at risk of exposure to Ebola before he went back to the ER a couple of days later when his condition worsened.
The man has been kept in isolation at the hospital since Sunday. He was listed Thursday in serious but stable condition.
Liberia is one of the three countries hit hardest in the epidemic, along with Sierra Leone and Guinea.
In Duncan's Liberian neighborhood, a collection of tin-roofed homes, has been ravaged by Ebola. So many people have fallen ill that neighbors are too frightened to comfort a 9-year-old girl who lost her mother to the disease.
The 19-year-old pregnant woman was convulsing and complaining of stomach pain, and everyone thought her problems were related to her pregnancy, in its seventh month. No ambulance would come for her, and the group that put her in a taxi never did find a hospital.
She eventually died. In the following weeks, all the neighbors who helped have gotten sick or died, neighbors said.
Paye-Layleh reported from Monrovia, Liberia. Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant and Paul J. Weber in Dallas, Emily Schmall in Fort Worth and Krista Larson in Monrovia also contributed to this report.