A man who took a commercial flight from Liberia that landed in Dallas on Sept. 20 has been found to have the Ebola virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Tuesday. He is the first traveler to have brought the virus to the United States on a passenger plane and the first in whom Ebola has been diagnosed outside of Africa.
As the disease has swept across West Africa, many health experts said it would be only a matter of time before it reached the United States. Hospitals and health departments around the country have been preparing for it, and a number of false alarms have occurred. But this time, the case is real.
The man, who was visiting relatives in the United States, was not ill during the flight, health officials said at a news conference Tuesday evening. Indeed, he was screened before he boarded the flight and had no fever. Because Ebola is not contagious until symptoms develop, there is “zero chance” that the patient infected anyone else on the flight, said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the disease centers. Ebola is spread only by direct contact with body fluids from someone who is ill.
The plan to bring two Americans stricken by the Ebola virus back to the United States for treatment has sparked a backlash on social media from some people terrified that the incurable disease will spread here as it has in western Africa.
“Stop the EBOLA patients from entering the U.S.,” Donald Trump tweeted Friday. “Treat them, at the highest level, over there. THE UNITED STATES HAS ENOUGH PROBLEMS!”
This mystifies infectious disease experts, who consider the viruses that cause Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and bird flu much more contagious — and therefore more dangerous to the public. Transmission of Ebola requires direct contact with an infected person’s blood, vomit or feces during the period that he or she is contagious, something that is extremely unlikely for anyone but health-care workers. The virus is not spread by coughing or sneezing. Nor do Americans bury their own dead family members or friends, as some residents of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea must do with Ebola victims.