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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Perspective: Death of U.S. Ebola patient tragic, but one case does not an outbreak make

With the Oct. 8 death of the first patient ever diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. the media frenzy about possible exposures and follow-up of contacts – which are being reported almost like they were actual infections in some coverage – paused long enough to let a little humanity back into the story.

“We are deeply saddened by the death of the patient in Dallas,” said Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Our thoughts go out to his family and friends. He is a face that we associate now with Ebola. Since the start of the epidemic, 3,742 patients in West Africa have been documented to have died from the disease.”

The patient identified in published reports as Thomas Duncan died Wednesday at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, which issued a statement expressing condolences and reaching out to the patient’s family. Frieden said the patient received “maximal interventions,” but there is still some controversy and question about why the patient was not admitted when he first presented to the hospital on Sept. 26. He was subsequently admitted after returning to the hospital on Sept. 28.

Duncan traveled from Liberia – one of the West African countries fighting the largest Ebola outbreak in history – on Sept. 20. He began developing symptoms four days later, meaning he was asymptomatic and considered non-contagious during air travel. However, contacts and potential exposures during the period when he was symptomatic but not hospitalized were the subject of intense scrutiny and speculation.

“As people are more concerned, there's a higher index of suspicion [and] people will be assessed, there will be rumors and concerns and potential cases,” Frieden said at an Oct. 8 press conference. “And that's as it should be. We should just keep in the perspective. Right now, there's only one patient who's ever been diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. and that individual tragically died today. We are tracing the other 48 people -- ten with definite and 38 with possible contact. None of them as of today has had fever or symptoms suggestive of Ebola. But we recognize we're not out of that 21-day waiting period and we're actually at the peak incidence period of eight to 10 days so it's certainly time when we're anxious and carefully assessing.”

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