Ebola Scare Hits Washington, Latest of About 100 Alerts to CDC

The CDC has fielded about 100 alerts for possible Ebola cases since July.

October 3, 2014, 4:34 PM

— -- Days after a person was diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil for the first time, officials are reportedly investigating a possible Ebola infection in Washington, D.C.

At Howard University Hospital, a patient is in stable condition after presenting with symptoms that could be associated with Ebola, according to a statement today from the hospital. The patient had recently traveled to Nigeria, where the Ebola outbreak has killed eight people.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with medical providers to monitor the patient's progress, officials said.

Officials are also monitoring an inmate at Cobb County Jail in Georgia. However, the initial blood test was negative for Ebola, according to the Cobb County Sheriff's Office.

Though the scares have put some on edge, the cases are not unique. After issuing an alert to hospitals and medical providers in July, the CDC has looked into approximately 100 Ebola scares in 33 states, as of Oct. 1, the agency said.

Among those, the CDC has tested the blood of 15 possible Ebola patients and found only one patient who tested positive, according to Dr. Beth Bell, director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. That patient is Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man diagnosed in Dallas.

"We're striving for perfection, but what we continue to do is redouble our efforts and ... use this as learning experience," Bell said.

Diagnosing the deadly virus can be difficult. The early symptoms of the Ebola virus, including fever chills and abdominal pain, are similar to many other diseases and can be difficult to diagnose correctly.

After a hospital or state lab identifies a possible Ebola case based on both travel history and symptoms, they notify the CDC. CDC officials then talk to someone familiar with the patient's history to determine whether blood testing for the virus is necessary, CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told ABC News in an earlier interview.

CDC officials discuss symptoms and determine whether the patient may have been exposed to the virus. A person can be exposed to the virus if they buried the body of an Ebola patient, lived in the same home as an Ebola patient or was a health care worker.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University Department of Medicine, said it is not surprising that only a small percentage of the patients investigated had a blood test to check for Ebola.

There are diseases that can appear similar to Ebola, but are far more common in the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone where the Ebola outbreak started, Schaffner noted. Doctors might end up contacting the CDC before finding out a patient actually has fever due to tuberculosis.

"You have to be mindful this could be malaria or typhoid fever. That's your job to sort all those things out," said Schaffner. "Your threshold for getting a blood specimen is dependent on the answers to those questions. You kind of have a decision algorithm in your head."

Schaffner said he would not be surprised if there are a rash of new calls to the CDC from hospitals or state labs in the next few days and weeks in light of the intense media coverage of the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S.

"Having all those inquiries come into the CDC are very, very indicative of the fact that the medical care community are on the alert and thinking about [Ebola]," Schaffner said. "It keeps all of us on our toes."

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