New developments in the Ebola story point to the possibility of more people possibly infected with the disease entering the United States. Still, according to medical authorities, there remains just the one confirmed case (in Dallas) so far.
On Saturday, a Centers for Disease Control HAZMAT crew removed two passengers – a man believed to be from Liberia who had become ill with symptoms associated with Ebola – from a United Airlines flight from Brussels that had landed at Newark Airport. The man was reported to be traveling with his daughter, who was also removed from the aircraft by the CDC crew.
The airline issued a statement confirming that the flight crew had needed to assist an ill customer: "Upon arrival at Newark Airport from Brussels, medical professionals instructed that customers and crew of United flight 988 remain on board until they could assist an ill customer. We are working with authorities and will accommodate our customers as quickly as we can."
On Thursday, United began notifying passengers who were on flights with a man later diagnosed with Ebola who had flown from Liberia to Brussels to Dallas, arriving in the United States Sept. 20.
Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States, is now in critical condition, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas said on Saturday. He had previously been described as being in serious condition.
At a press conference Saturday, CDC Director Tom Frieden said the agency had received "well over 100 inquiries of possible patients.”
“We’ve assessed every one of those with local health departments and hospitals, and just this one patient has tested positive," Dr. Frieden said. "We expect that we will see more rumors, or concerns, or possibilities of cases. Until there is a positive laboratory test, that is what they are – rumors and concerns.”
Also on Saturday, officials said a person who had traveled to Nigeria and who was being evaluated for Ebola at Washington’s Howard University Hospital does not have the disease. In this and other cases, patients were found to exhibit Ebola-like symptoms also associated with non-contagious illnesses.
"Federal and state health officials said Saturday that they are continuing to monitor the conditions of 49 people in the Dallas area who may have had contact with Thomas Eric Duncan ... but that none has shown signs of the disease," the Washington Post reports. "The group includes nine people who almost certainly came in contact with Duncan – four in the apartment where he was staying – and about 40 others whom officials cannot rule out...."
The Obama administration said Saturday that it had issued an emergency permit allowing an Illinois company to transport large quantities of potentially Ebola-contaminated material from the apartment where Mr. Duncan had stayed, as well as from the hospital where he is being treated, the New York Times reported. The permit ends days of delays in disposing of the waste.
In his press conference Saturday, the CDC's Frieden also addressed the issue of travel bans to countries in Africa where Ebola has been most devastating. Such bans could make the situation worse, he said, making it harder to get medical care and aid workers to the region.
Dr. Frieden and other experts are emphasizing the importance of obtaining travel histories from patients ill with flu-like symptoms.
"Hospitals and healthcare workers across the nation have to learn from this experience," said Texas state Department of Health Services Director David Lakey, who participated in the press conference. "If you have a patient with fever and symptoms that have possibly be related to Ebola, you have to ask that travel history and take it seriously."