Preliminary test results on a Duke University Hospital patient who developed a fever Sunday after returning from Liberia have come back negative for Ebola, state health officials said Monday morning.
The patient will be kept in quarantine for 72 hours, then tested again. Testing specimens also could be sent to the CDC for additional analysis to confirm a diagnosis.
The person rode a bus from the Newark, N.J., airport to Durham and developed a fever after traveling to Person County, state health officials said.
Public health officials said the patient, described only as a male, was being monitored Sunday for health conditions, including Ebola. They emphasized that he had no known exposure to Ebola and had not been diagnosed with the potentially fatal disease, which has caused thousands of deaths in Africa, public health officials said.
“Our public health officials believe that the risk of exposure to others is extremely low,” said Dr. Aldona Wos, secretary of state Department of Health and Human Services at a news conference at 9:30 p.m. Sunday. “We are committed to an open line of communications.”
State DHHS and Durham and Person county health departments were working with Duke to care for the patient, who flew into Newark Liberty International Airport.
After arriving in Durham on a commercial bus, the person traveled to Person County on Saturday and developed a fever Sunday morning, something he detected through self-monitoring, the agencies said.
Duke Hospital officials sent other patients a letter to advise them of the patient’s presence and to attempt to soothe any concerns.
“The patient is being cared for in a contained, isolated and secured unit within Duke University Hospital,” the message said in part.
“The patient is receiving care from a highly experienced clinical team of Duke staff and physicians who volunteered for this service, have trained extensively and will only care for this patient population. We have anticipated this scenario for several weeks and a plan to manage it is in place.”
State epidemiologist Megan Davies said at the press conference that except for the patient’s fever, he has not shown any other symptoms typical of Ebola.
“We are working with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) on finding more about passengers who may have been on that bus, but our priority is on evaluating the patient,” Davies said.
State epidemiologists were contacting the person’s family members. He had stayed with family members in Person County and was practicing self-monitoring.
After determining he had a fever, the patient first got in touch with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The CDC reached state DHHS and then Person County health officials, all of whom were represented at the press conference.
Gov. Pat McCrory and the State Emergency Response Team were on standby, according to a press release issued earlier Sunday. Wos and her staff have been consulting with the CDC and local health departments in an effort to make sure health-safety protocols are being followed.
“Duke University Hospital in Durham is prepared and equipped for the evaluation, isolation and treatment of suspected Ebola patients,” the DHHS statement said. “The patient was transported from Person County using the appropriate health and safety protocols.
“The patient will remain in a contained, isolated and secured unit until the results of testing are known. These precautions are being taken based on the patient’s recent travel from Liberia.”
Local health departments will closely monitor anyone who might have been in contact with the patient. Duke Hospital assured its patients that their care would not be compromised by the presence of the patient there.
“Our team is in continuous contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health departments to monitor any new information related to the virus or care for Ebola patients,” the message said.
“While the situation related to caring for this patient will be a high priority, this will in no way impact the quality of care that you receive. Your Duke care team is committed to continuing to deliver outstanding care to you and all Duke Medicine patients.”
Duke Hospital officials also sent an email to students, faculty and staff containing much of the same information and encouraging them to visit http://sites.duke.edu/ebolainfo/ for more information.
The epidemic in Africa and a handful of cases in the United States has brought about widespread fear of the disease. However, public health officials noted that Ebola is only contagious after a patient’s symptoms begin.
“Ebola is not spread through the air, water or food – or simply by being near an infected person,” DHHS officials said. “Ebola is only spread through unprotected contact with blood or body fluids from an infected person who has symptoms, or with objects like needles that have been contaminated with the virus.”