TUESDAY, Sept. 30, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The first confirmed case of Ebola has surfaced in the United States, involving a man who recently flew here from Liberia, federal health officials announced late Tuesday.
The critically ill patient, being cared for at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, has been diagnosed with the deadly virus, officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a late afternoon news conference.
The man is receiving intensive care in isolation at the hospital, said Dr. Edward Goodman, the hospital's epidemiologist. Experimental therapies are being discussed with his family members and his doctors.
This is the first patient ever diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, and the first patient outside Africa to ever be diagnosed with the Ebola Zaire strain, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden noted.
"The bottom line here is that I have no doubt we will control this case of Ebola so it will not spread widely in this country," Frieden said at the news briefing.
He said the man boarded a plane in Liberia on Sept. 19 and arrived in the United States the next day. The patient had no symptoms during his flight, and only fell ill four or five days later.
Frieden stressed there is "zero risk" of Ebola to people who shared the flight, since the virus can only be transmitted by someone suffering from symptoms.
The patient first sought medical care on Sept. 26, Frieden said. Doctors admitted him to the hospital on Sept. 28 and placed him in isolation.
Samples submitted to state and federal health officials tested positive for the Ebola Zaire strain Tuesday, said Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The man was "here to visit family who live in this country," and was staying with family when he fell ill, said Frieden, who declined to say whether he is an American citizen. As far as public health officials know, the man was not involved in the medical response to the ongoing Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
Public health officials are tracking down people who might have come into contact with the patient, Frieden said. Once identified, they will be monitored for fever during the next 21 days, which is the maximum incubation period for Ebola.
Currently, public health officials suspect only a handful of people in Texas came into contact with the patient since he fell ill, including some family members and friends.
"Our approach in these cases is to cast the net widely," to err on the side of safety, Frieden said.
Frieden stressed that Ebola is not easily transmitted -- to become infected, a person must come into direct contact with the bodily fluids of a person who is suffering symptoms.
On Tuesday, the Dallas hospital issued a statement in which it said it was taking all precautions. "The hospital is following all Centers for Disease Control and Texas Department of Heath recommendations to ensure the safety of patients, hospital staff, volunteers, physicians and visitors," the hospital said.
Goodman said that hospital officials had a meeting to discuss how they should respond to an Ebola case just one week prior to the patient's admission.
"Because of that, we were well prepared to deal with this crisis," he said, describing the facility as a "large community hospital with a robust infection control system."
"The issue with Ebola is not that it is highly infectious," Frieden added. "The issue with Ebola is that the stakes are so high."
It "has a high case fatality rate, even with the best of care," he explained. A person receiving medical care has a 50 percent chance of dying, and in some outbreaks the death rate has soared as high as 90 percent.
The new case in Dallas is the sixth to be treated in the United States since the West African outbreak began last spring. An unidentified American doctor who had been working in Sierra Leone is currently being cared for at a hospital at the U.S. National Institutes of Health in suburban Washington, D.C.
Three others who became infected with the virus have recovered, while a fourth continues to undergo treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is the worst outbreak ever of the disease. So far, an estimated 6,500 people have become infected and nearly 3,100 have died in the countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, according to the World Health Organization.
The epidemic could strike as many as 1.4 million people by mid-January unless the global community mounts a rapid response to the crisis, according to estimates by the CDC.
For more information on Ebola virus, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.