-- The number of people being monitored in Texas for possible exposure to an infected Ebola patient has been narrowed to 50, with 10 of those believed to be at "high risk" for exposure, Texas health officials said today.
The effort to prevent any spread of the often lethal virus became more focused on a day when the family of Thomas Eric Duncan said he appeared to weaken, and a special cleaning crew began sanitizing the Dallas apartment he was staying at when he became ill.
Health officials said earlier this week that they had determined that as many as 100 people could require monitoring after having come into contact with Duncan before he was hospitalized. That number was sharply reduced today.
There are "approximately 50 individuals we need to follow on a daily basis," Texas Health Commissioner David Lakey said. "Most of those individuals are low risk. There are about 10 that are high risk." He did not say what constituted "high risk."
Lakey said all 50 would be visited daily by a health care worker and their temperatures taken twice a day.
"All those individuals are doing well," and none have symptoms of Ebola, he said.
Duncan, confined to an isolation unit at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, appeared to be struggling with his illness, his family told ABC News.
The family had said earlier in the week they spoke with Duncan by phone and prayed with him on the phone, but that is no longer possible, Duncan's nephew Joe Weeks told ABC News.
"At first we were able to talk to him on the phone, but now he is just too sick to speak," Weeks said.
Weeks lives in Kannapolis, N.C., along with Duncan's sister and 87-year-old mother. The mother and sister may travel to Dallas soon, Weeks said.
A cleaning crew is expected to arrive today at the Ivy Apartments in Dallas where Duncan had been staying when he got sick from the Ebola virus. The crew was turned away on Thursday, but returned today. They are also expected to sanitize a car Duncan had used.
The cleaning crew is tasked with disinfecting all of the surfaces that Duncan could have touched, Dallas Judge Clay Jenkins said Thursday. The man’s clothes and sheets have been “bagged,” Jenkins said. Additionally, food has been delivered to the apartment for Duncan’s relatives.
Weeks is concerned that the apartment had not yet been sanitized despite having four people confined there by a judge's order until they determined to not be infected with Ebola, which can take as long as 21 days to incubate. Among the people in the apartment are a teenage boy and woman named Louise Troh, who traveled from Liberia with Duncan.
“The house that he lived in has not been cleaned or disinfected. You still have four more people in there, that lived in that house and were allowed to leave and go shopping, go do other things that normal people would do,” Weeks said.
Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told ABC News today the Ebola diagnosis offers new challenges for authorities.
“It’s the first time we’re having Ebola in this country and the challenges are real in terms of what do you do with the waste, how do you move it, how do you dispose of it and we want to make sure that everything is done correctly,” Frieden said. “I’m confident that will get sorted out today.”
The initial handling of Duncan's case has been the subject of controversy. Duncan first visited the hospital last Thursday, Sept. 25, but was allowed to leave the hospital despite telling a nurse he had come from West Africa. Duncan returned to the hospital by ambulance on Sunday.
The hospital said in a statement Thursday that the physician and the nurses followed protocol, but his travel history didn't automatically appear in the physician's standard workflow.
Weeks also had concerns that the hospital wasn't aware that Duncan may have been infected with Ebola. Weeks said that he called the hospital to report his concerns about Duncan’s condition – and when he didn’t get the reaction he wanted, he called officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health, at which point Duncan was put in isolation.
“They had him in the ER, like any other patient, and I didn’t think that was the right procedure,” Weeks said.
“I don’t know how long it was going to take, but I wasn’t trying to wait to see how long it was going to take, so I pre-empted and called CDC and reported that there might be a possible Ebola case in Texas. But the hospital was not doing what it needed to do at that time,” he said.
Duncan, who worked as a driver in Liberia, flew to Brussels on Sept. 19. He continued to Washington’s Dulles Airport, before flying to the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport on a United Airlines flight, arriving on Sept. 20.
Although American Ebola patients have been treated in the United States prior to this diagnosis, they all contracted Ebola in West Africa. Ebola has killed more than 3,300 people, with nearly 7,200 cases reported since the outbreak began in March.
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