After a worrisome day that left many jumpy Memphians wondering if Ebola had reached the Bluff City, good news hit Sunday night in the form of a negative test.
The concerns surfaced early Sunday morning, when physicians at Methodist University Hospital quarantined a man who presented some symptoms of Ebola. At the time, hospital officials said they were acting out of an “abundance of caution,” but the news still caused concern among many Memphians.
Hospital officials sent the man’s blood to the state department of health for tests. The good news came back just after 8:30 p.m.
“The state health department just alerted us that the test result was negative for Ebola for the patient at Methodist University Hospital. We will continue to monitor and care for the patient. We proceeded with an abundance of caution today, and this experience makes our staff even better prepared should we face a case in the future. We are all pleased with the outcome, and believe we are now even better prepared going forward. We’re grateful for the leadership and guidance from our local and state health departments,” Methodist spokesman Mary Alice Taylor said in a prepared statement.
There were signs by early evening that the isolated patient did not have the deadly virus. Officials said that the man’s symptoms could also be indicative of malaria, a mosquito-borne disease common to the tropics. Also, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said he’d been told that the man had not been to any of the primary African countries associated with the Ebola outbreak.
“It shows the value of our protocols that we’ve been following. I think the health department and Methodist Hospital did a superb job of researching this and getting the results back as quickly as they could and getting it out to the public as quickly as they could,” Luttrell said. “Certainly it’s been a busy day and we’re glad it’s a happy ending.”
Shelby County Health Department spokesman Elizabeth Hart said patient privacy laws prevented her from saying whether the man has malaria. His name was not released.
Hospitals across the country have been on high alert since Thomas Eric Duncan showed up at a Dallas hospital in late September with Ebola symptoms. His case was bungled, and he wasn’t quarantined until he returned to the hospital four days later. He died from the disease on Oct. 8.
Since then, two of Duncan’s nurses have also tested positive, and are being treated. Just last week, a New York doctor who had been working in Guinea also tested positive for the virus, making his the fourth case on American soil. However, Duncan remains the only fatality in America so far.
In a letter to medical professionals earlier this week, health officials asked them to remain vigilant for signs of the disease.
“With the recent news of the Ebola cases in Texas, the Shelby County Health Department is urging local physicians and other medical professionals to remain vigilant. With the ease of world travel, no community is immune from evaluating a patient suspected of having Ebola. We are encouraging health care professionals across the Mid-South to take careful steps to obtain detailed travel histories along with the symptomatology profile for anyone presenting to your facility with possible symptoms of infection with Ebola virus,” the letter says.
Staff reporters Kevin McKenzie and Clay Bailey contributed to this story.
Ebola screening guidelines
A detailed travel history should be obtained from any patient presenting with the early symptoms of Ebola: fever over 101.5 degrees, headache, weakness, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty swallowing, red eyes, sore throat.
The incubation period for Ebola is 2 to 21 days after exposure. A travel history should be collected to encompass this complete timeframe, answering these questions:
- Has the patient traveled outside the United States within the last month?
- Has the patient traveled within or between Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea within the last month?
- If so, was the patient in close contact with anyone he/she believed to be ill, regardless of the perceived cause of illness?
Source: Shelby County Health Department