A Manhattan doctor who returned seven days ago from treating Ebola patients in West Africa tested positive for the virus Thursday, marking the first case of the deadly disease in New York.
Dr. Craig Spencer, 33, was rushed to Bellevue Hospital Center, where he was taken directly to an isolation unit, after reporting symptoms of fatigue and a fever with a temperature of 103 degrees. New York City health officials said they quarantined his fiance, two friends and an Uber taxi cab driver who drove him home Wednesday from The Gutter, a bowling alley in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which has since closed as a precaution.
“We were hoping that it didn’t happen, but we were realistic; this is New York,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters at a news conference Thursday night. “Our best information is that for the relevant period of time, he was only exposed to a very few people partially because he knew what the illness was all about and he was taking precautions.”
The case is the fourth confirmed in the United States since a Liberian man became the first in Dallas before he died of Ebola on Oct. 8. He infected two nurses who treated him, one of whom has since recovered. The other, Nina Pham, is being treated in a special isolation unit at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
Those three prior cases come amid the largest Ebola outbreak in world history that has claimed nearly 5,000 lives in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where Spencer had volunteered for the nonprofit Doctors Without Borders, which has been working to stem the crisis.
Spencer was taken to Bellevue by specially trained first responders in Haz-Mat suits, like the thousands—including many on Long Island—that have been training for just such a case.
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Besides the four Spencer contacts in quarantine, disease detectives are working to track down anyone else who may have come in contact with the doctor—a task that could prove difficult since he rode the A, 1 and L subway trains. But, health official cautioned that it is “extremely unlikely” that there is a risk of contracting Ebola from riding the same subway as Spencer because he was not sick enough to be contagious at the time he took the trains.
The jetliner on which Spencer arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Oct. 17 was reportedly taken out of service for cleaning as a precaution. His apartment has been isolated as well.
Although it claims the lives of half those who contract it, officials urged New Yorkers not to panic, reiterating repeatedly at the news conference that the only way to contract the virus is through direct contact with bodily fluids of an infected Ebola patient, not casual contact. Ebola is not airborne, officials repeated.
“Being on the same subway car…does not in itself put someone at risk,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “There is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed. Ebola is an extremely hard disease to contract.”
#Ebola is spread by direct contact w/ body fluids of a sick person or exposure to contaminated objects, like needles. pic.twitter.com/tsSjZ8g8nb
— CDC (@CDCgov) October 24, 2014
The case was confirmed just as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced it began 21-day monitoring of hundreds of daily air travelers who arrive in the nation from the four Ebola-stricken countries. Some are calling for anyone who arrives from those countries to be quarantined for that time. That rhetoric was particularly rampant, given the New York case was confirmed in the height of campaign season.
“JFK must be shut now to passengers originating from Ebola designated nations,” said Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the Republican gubernatorial challenger trying to unseat Cuomo, the Democratic incumbent. “This was avoidable.”
The governor, who last week designated eight of the about 200 hospitals statewide as Ebola treatment centers, noted that three of the four Ebola patients in America so far have all been medical professionals who had been in direct contact with the disease.
“I know it’s a frightening situation,” Cuomo said. “But, the more facts you know, the less frightening this situation is.”