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Cruise ship bearing quarantined health care worker returns to port

The unidentified health care worker who may have handled laboratory specimens from a patient diagnosed with Ebola reportedly reportedly quarantined herself aboard the ship. 

A Texas-based cruise ship carrying a Dallas health care worker who is being monitored for signs of Ebola returned to port early Sunday, company officials said.

The unidentified woman who is being monitored disembarked the Carnival Magic with her husband shortly after the ship returned to Galveston, Texas, about 6 a.m. EDT, said Vicky Rey, vice president of guest care for Carnival Cruise Lines. Rey said the couple drove themselves home, but offered no further details.

Company and federal officials have said the woman being monitored for Ebola poses no risk because she has shown no symptoms and has voluntarily self-quarantined.

Petty Officer Andy Kendrick told The Associated Press that a Coast Guard crew flew in a helicopter Saturday to meet the Carnival Magic and retrieved a blood sample from the woman. He said the blood sample was taken to a state lab in Austin for processing.

Kendrick had no further details about how the sample was taken. He said the decision to take the sample was made in coordination with the federal, state and local health authorities.

Obama administration officials said the passenger handled a lab specimen from Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man diagnosed with Ebola who died at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital earlier this month. Officials said the woman poses no risk because she has shown no signs of illness for 19 days and has voluntarily self-quarantined on the cruise ship.

US officials had been seeking ways to return the woman and her husband to the US before the ship completes its cruise on Sunday.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that when the woman left the US on the cruise ship from Galveston, Texas, on Oct. 12 health officials were requiring only self-monitoring.

Carnival Cruise Lines said in a statement that the woman, a lab supervisor, remained in isolation "and is not deemed to be a risk to any guests or crew."

"We are in close contact with the CDC, and at this time it has been determined that the appropriate course of action is to simply keep the guest in isolation on board," the statement said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The ship was refused clearance to dock in Cozumel, Mexico on Friday, a day after Belize refused to let the passenger leave the vessel.

A spokeswoman for the cruise line, Jennifer De La Cruz, said that when the Magic made a port call in Belize, other passengers were allowed to disembark with the exception of the health care worker and her spouse.

There have been no restrictions placed on other passengers aboard the ship, officials said.

The cruise line said Friday that after not receiving clearance, the ship left Cozumel waters shortly after noon Friday with the goal of returning to its home port of Galveston on Sunday morning as originally scheduled.

Concerns about Ebola in the United States have intensified after two nurses from the Dallas hospital who cared for Duncan contracted the virus, which has killed nearly 4,500 people, mostly in West Africa. The White House is facing sharp criticism from US lawmakers over its efforts to contain the disease.

On Thursday, Frontier Airlines said six crew members were placed on paid leave for 21 days "out of an abundance of caution," after learning that a nurse who had treated  in Dallas may have been symptomatic when she flew on the airline earlier this week. 

*This report contains additional material from Reuters.

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