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Traveller from Liberia is first Ebola patient diagnosed in US

Mike Stone, AFP | The Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where a patient has been diagnosed with Ebola

A man who flew from Liberia to Texas has become the first patient infected with the deadly Ebola virus to be diagnosed in the United States, health officials said on Tuesday, a sign the outbreak ravaging West Africa may spread globally.

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The patient was hospitalised in Dallas, Texas, with symptoms that were confirmed to be caused by Ebola, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman told AFP.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas said it had placed in strict isolation a person based on “symptoms and recent travel history”.

The patient is the first to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, although a handful of US medical workers who were infected in West Africa have been flown back to the United States for treatment, and have recovered.

The man initially sought treatment six days after arriving in the country, potentially exposing a “handful” of family members and others to the virus, a top US health official said on Tuesday.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said he had no doubt that local and federal health authorities could contain the potential spread of the deadly virus in the country.

“It is certainly possible someone who had contact with this individual could develop Ebola in the coming weeks,” Frieden told a press conference. “I have no doubt we will stop this in its tracks in the United States.”

‘Americans need to remain calm’

The world’s largest outbreak of Ebola has infected 6,574 people across five west African countries, and killed 3,091, according to the World Health Organization.

The Ebola outbreak has overwhelmed health systems in Africa, one of the world’s poorest regions, prompting the US government and other nations to send funds, supplies and personnel to stop its spread.

WHITE HOUSE SEEKS TO CALM PUBLIC

The Dallas case “underscores that Ebola is a global and national security issue and that we need to double-down on our efforts to help West Africa get this outbreak under control,” Gerald Parker, vice president for Public Health Preparedness and Response at Texas A&M Health Science Center, told Reuters on Tuesday.

Frieden has said US hospitals are well prepared to handle Ebola patients and has assured the public that the virus should not pose the same threat in the United States as it does in Africa.

“Americans need to remain calm and listen to the precautionary measures being suggested by the CDC,” said Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs.

“It was only a matter of time before an Ebola case would emerge here in the United States, but as we’re seeing in Dallas today, our public health system has the resources, capabilities, and knowledge to address and contain this virus quickly and safely.”

Seeking vaccines

Ebola symptoms generally appear between two and 21 days after infection, meaning there is a significant window during which an infected person can escape detection, allowing them to travel. Symptoms include fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.

This outbreak has killed about 50 percent of its victims. In past outbreaks, fatality rates have been as high as 90 percent.

Frieden emphasized that Ebola cannot be spread through the air but only through contact with bodily fluids such as blood, diarrhoea and tears.

He said that CDC and other health officials were discussing whether to treat the Ebola patient with an experimental drug.

Stocks in Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp and other small biotechnology companies working on Ebola therapies or vaccines rose on the news of the US Ebola patient in after-hours trading.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)

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