WEDNESDAY, Oct. 1, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Federal health officials are monitoring up to 18 people who were exposed to the man being treated at a Dallas hospital for the first confirmed case of Ebola in the United States.
Some of the 18 people are members of the man's family. The group also includes five schoolchildren as well as the three-member ambulance crew that transported the man on Sunday to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, according to published reports.
The man has been identified as Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national, who arrived in the United States on Sept. 20 to visit family in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, The New York Times reported.
Duncan may have had contact with the five children at a home in Texas over the weekend. The children attend four different schools, including a high school, a middle school and two elementary schools. The schools will remain open but will undergo a thorough cleaning as a precaution, the newspaper said.
The ambulance workers have tested negative for the highly lethal virus that has been ravaging several West African nations, and are confined to their homes for observation, the Associated Press reported.
"If anyone develops fever, we'll immediately isolate them to stop the chain of transmission," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the AP.
People who had contact with Duncan will be monitored for fever during the next 21 days, which is the maximum incubation period for Ebola, Frieden said.
Duncan flew to the United States from Liberia after quitting his job with a shipping company in Monrovia, Liberia, one of the West African nations battling the Ebola outbreak, the Times reported. He first developed Ebola symptoms Sept. 24 and sought care two days later, but was released from the hospital. Hospital officials weren't aware at the time that he had been in West Africa, the AP reported.
He was taken to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital after his condition worsened.
Duncan 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, Frieden said at a Tuesday afternoon news briefing.
"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 briefing.
Frieden said Duncan had no symptoms during his flight from Liberia, and only fell ill four or five days later.
Frieden said there is "zero risk" of Ebola to people who shared the flight, since the virus can only be transmitted by someone suffering from symptoms.
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. Those symptoms include fever, muscle pain, vomiting and bleeding and can appear as long as 21 days after exposure to the virus.
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 Health recommendations to ensure the safety of patients, hospital staff, volunteers, physicians and visitors," the hospital said.
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.