Even though a sick patient later diagnosed with Ebola told an emergency room nurse at a Texas hospital that he had recently traveled from West Africa, the nurse failed to pass on that information to other hospital staff, and that man was released from the hospital with antibiotics, officials said today.
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The first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S. was initially sent home after seeking care at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital for symptoms consistent with the virus on Sept. 26, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Now, experts are asking why he wasn't immediately isolated.
"The CDC says ask anyone with fever whether they have traveled. That's one thing CDC will look at," said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News chief health and medical editor who is currently in Liberia covering the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The patient was only hospitalized and placed in isolation two days later after returning to the hospital by ambulance when his symptoms worsened, according to the CDC.
Besser pointed to a CDC advisory sent to medical facilities and health care workers nationwide in early August advising them to flag and isolate patients who had recently traveled to West Africa, the epicenter of the outbreak, and who exhibited symptoms such as high fever, headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or unexplained hemorrhage.
Anyone who has recently handled animals such as rodents or bats from high risk areas and also has symptoms should be isolated as well, the agency advised.
In a news conference earlier today, Dr. Mark Lester, the executive vice president of the hospital, said the patient did not fully communicate his status to hospital staff and his overall clinical presentation was not typical at the time for Ebola.
But he also said: "He volunteered that he traveled from Africa in response to a nurse operating the checklist and asking him the question. The clinicians did not factor that in. It was not part of their decision."
He added that a nurse who saw the patient did ask him if he had traveled to Africa and he said yes. She did not communicate with the rest of the team. He did not offer an explanation.
In a news conference Tuesday, Edward Goodman, the hospital's epidemiologist, said there was a plan in place for suspected Ebola cases.
"Ironically enough in the week before this patient presented, we had a meeting of all the stakeholders that might be involved in the care of such patients. And because of that, we were well prepared to deal with this crisis," he said.
But if that was the case, Besser questioned why this patient was sent home with a course of antibiotics instead of being admitted and isolated.
"A person with fever and diarrhea who has recently returned from Liberia should be considered to be a suspect Ebola patient and immediately isolated. To not do so is a breach of protocol," Besser said.