Doctor who returned from West Africa tests positive for Ebola in New York City

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Dr. Craig Spencer, 33, who lives in Manhattan, tested positive for Ebola, officials said Thursday. (Photo: Linked-In page)

NEW YORK (CNN) — A Doctors Without Borders physician who recently returned to New York from West Africa has tested positive for the Ebola virus, becoming the first diagnosed case in the city, authorities said late Thursday.

The doctor, identified as Craig Spencer, 33, came back from treating Ebola patients in Guinea October 17 and developed a fever, nausea, pain and fatigue Thursday. He is in isolation and being treated at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, one of the eight hospitals statewide that Gov. Andrew Cuomo designated earlier this month as part of an Ebola preparedness plan.

Spencer, who is hospitalized in intensive care, went for a jog, may have gone to a restaurant, traveled the city’s vast subway system and went bowling before feeling ill, but authorities stressed that the likelihood of him spreading the virus was low.

“We want to state at the outset there is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters late Thursday.

Health officials said three people who had been in contact with Spencer — his fiancée and two friends — were healthy and would be quarantined and monitored. A fourth, a car service driver, had no physical contact with the patient and was not considered at risk.

Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, New York City’s health commissioner, said Spencer completed his work in Guinea on October 12 and left Africa two days later via Europe. He arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport on October 17. She said he exhibited no symptoms during his journey or any time afterward until Thursday morning. He had been checking his temperature twice a day.

Spencer went for a three-mile jog and visited a bowling alley in Brooklyn named The Gutter prior to feeling symptomatic Thursday morning, Bassett said. The bowling alley has been closed. He also traveled on three subway lines. Authorities are checking his MetroCard to determine where else he went.

“At the time that the doctor was on the subway he did not have fever … he was not symptomatic,” according to Bassett, who said the chances of anyone contracting the virus from contact with Spencer were “close to nil.”

De Blasio and Bassett were joined by Gov. Cuomo at a news conference to allay concerns about the spread of the virus, especially via public transportation.

“We are as ready as one could be for this circumstance,” Cuomo said, adding that the situation in his state is different than what happened in Texas, where a man from Liberia was diagnosed with Ebola and two health care workers who treated him later contracted the virus.

“We had the advantage of learning from the Dallas experience,” Cuomo said.

De Blasio added, “Ebola is very difficult to contract. Being on the same subway car or living near someone with Ebola does not put anyone at risk.”

The physician, employed at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, has been in isolation at Bellevue since he was taken there by emergency personnel Thursday morning.

His Manhattan apartment has been isolated.

Earlier Thursday, de Blasio — without naming the doctor being treated — said that “careful protocols were followed every step of the way” in the city’s handling of the case. The hospitalized doctor has “worked closely” with health officials, the mayor said.

The doctor exhibited symptoms of the Ebola virus for “a very brief period of time” and had direct contact with “very few people” in New York, de Blasio told reporters.

On his Facebook page, Spencer posted a photo of himself in protective gear. The page indicates he went to Guinea around September 18 and later to Brussels in mid October.

“Off to Guinea with Doctors Without Borders (MSF)” he wrote. “Please support organizations that are sending support or personnel to West Africa, and help combat one of the worst public health and humanitarian disasters in recent history.”

In a statement, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital said the doctor was “a dedicated humanitarian” who went to “an area of medical crisis to help a desperately underserved population.”

“He is a committed and responsible physician who always puts his patients first,” the hospital statement said. “He has not been to work at our hospital and has not seen any patients at our hospital since his return from overseas.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had people packing up to go to New York on Thursday, and a specimen from the physician was to be sent to CDC headquarters in Atlanta for testing, an official familiar with the situation told CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen.

In a statement Thursday, Doctors Without Borders confirmed that the physician recently returned from West Africa and was “engaged in regular health monitoring.” The doctor contacted Doctors Without Borders Thursday to report a fever, the statement said.

The doctor began feeling sluggish a couple of days ago, but it wasn’t until Thursday, when he developed 103-degree fever, that he contacted Doctors Without Borders, authorities said.

The case came to light after the New York Fire Department received a call shortly before noon Thursday about a sick person in Manhattan. The patient was taken to Bellevue.

Mark Levine, a city councilman who represents the doctor’s Manhattan neighborhood, said earlier Thursday, before news broke of the doctor’s positive test, that city health department workers were canvassing the area, distributing information on the disease door-to-door, according to CNN affiliate WABC.

“The goal right now is to make sure people don’t panic,” he said.

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The health department said a special ambulance unit transported a patient suffering from a fever and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Bellevue Hospital is designated for the “isolation, identification and treatment of potential Ebola patients” in the city, the statement said.

“As a further precaution, beginning today (Thursday), the Health Department’s team of disease detectives immediately began to actively trace all of the patient’s contacts to identify anyone who may be at potential risk,” the health department statement said.

“The chances of the average New Yorker contracting Ebola are extremely slim,” the statement said, adding that the disease is spread by direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.

Ebola has killed nearly 5,000 people, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. But fears about its spread has mounted since the first person diagnosed with the disease in the United States was hospitalized in Texas last month.

Thomas Eric Duncan, who had flown from Liberia to Dallas, died on October 8. Two nurses who treated him became infected with the virus and are undergoing treatment, with the cases raising questions about the ability of local and federal officials to deal with an outbreak in the United States.

Starting Monday, all travelers coming to the United States from Ebola-affected areas will be actively monitored for 21 days.

In addition, all U.S.-bound passengers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea must land in one of the five U.S. airports with enhanced screening for Ebola: New York’s John F. Kennedy International, Washington Dulles, New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International, Chicago’s O’Hare International and Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta.








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  • bevis

    how about no any one that fly to another country to treat abola gets a free pass to stay in that country never to return to america

    • Alice Smith

      If someone wants to go over there to help, that’s their right, but how dare they selfishly come back here and put other people in this country at risk! This is criminal and it’s criminal out of our government to allow it.

      • Samuel Jenkins

        Who are you to deny a US citizen access to his homeland. This is a very deadly disease, but will never become an epidemic (rapid spread of infectious disease to a large number of persons in a given population within a short period of time, usually two weeks or less) because it simply doesn’t have the transmission rate. If you would have paid attention to the article it cited the Mayor of New York, “Ebola is very difficult to contract. Being on the same subway car or living near someone with Ebola does not put anyone at risk.”
        Your lack of humanity is astounding. I have never before replied to a comment on an article, but ‘Alice Smith’, your phrase “selfishly come back here” simply took me aback. I tend to wonder if anyone who comments actually reads the article. For heavens sake, the article wrote that, “the doctor was “a dedicated humanitarian” who went to “an area of medical crisis to help a desperately underserved population.” What kind of person are you, Ms. ‘Smith’? Do you look death in the face to help other people? I am forced to assume not. Your utter absence of respect….I wonder how you sleep at night, Mrs. ‘Smith’.
        As a humorous aside, we only have too look at your comment “It’s criminal out our government to allow it.” Simple mistake of spelling aside, your ignorance just strikes me as ludicrous.
        ‘Its criminal’ There are two ways we can think on the meaning of this comment. Either you mean that it is literally against the law for our government to allow sick patients into the United States. Which is blatantly false. The government is not legally allowed to prevent a US citizen from a return into the United States, unless in a case of proven terrorism due to the Patriot Act. You could also have used that word in a colloquial sense, in which case, I respect your use of a grammatical device.
        Anyways. This comment and others on this page have no sense of humanity or decency about them. The United States has the best healthcare in the world. A US citizen, a doctor no less, is completely in his right to return to the states after he takes care of some of the most unassisted people in the Africa, much less the globe. (3.5-4.0 million people in Liberia and only 51-200 doctors, a 1 doctor to 17,500 person ratio at best and a 1 doctor to ~78,000 person ratio at worst) Mrs. ‘Alice Smith’, you may not be a doctor or a nurse, but I am one hundred percent sure that you would be begging to come back to the United States if you were in Liberia. That’s a Guarantee.
        If anyone has a coherent argument, by all means, write another comment. But don’t be like the ‘Alice Smith’s’ of this world.

  • bevis

    you people are idiots bringing this home , i hope you all get it stupid fools was it worth it? if that man had not gotten sick no one would have herd of him.

  • Kevin Bond (@Cancerkiller543)

    Аny anxieties concerning Ebola will be forgotten and everyone will know that he/she is untouchable for Ebola and any other viruses like AIDS, Colds, Flues, SARS, EV-D68, TB, etc., once everybody (kids and adults) start doing my WVD – The Weapon of Virus Destruction – Just an exercise for a minute a day – I will disclose it to everyone, if the world pays me 50 billion EURO – Then everybody will be protected 100% from any viruses, bio-weapons (like Ebola and AIDS), any cancers, diabetes and strokes all the time.

  • KJac

    If doctors and nurses must wear personal protective equipment while treating ebola patients in order to not get infected, yet they still get infected, how are we not to be concerned as they come home and go out and about with their lives in plain clothes without some sort of mandatory quarantine period? This does not make any sense. The human race is being irresponsible with this disease.