Officials Confirm First Ebola Case Diagnosed in the United States

First Ebola Case in the US
The Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas
LM Otero/AP Photo

09/30/2014 AT 06:15 PM EDT

A patient being treated at a Dallas hospital has tested positive for Ebola, the first case of the disease to be diagnosed in the United States, federal health officials announced Tuesday.

Officials at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital say the unidentified patient is being kept in isolation and that the hospital is following Centers for Disease Control recommendations to keep doctors, staff and patients safe.

The hospital had announced a day earlier that the patient's symptoms and recent travel indicated a case of Ebola, the virus that has killed more than 3,000 people across West Africa and infected a handful of Americans who have traveled to that region.

At a press conference Tuesday, Centers for Disease Control director Tom Frieden said the man left Liberia on Sept. 19 and arrived in the United States on Sept. 20. Frieden said the man showed no symptoms immediately upon his return.

But, Frieden said, he fell ill Sept. 24 and sought care two days later. He was not put into isolation until Sept. 28. As a result, public health workers now have to track down any person the man came into contact with during the four-day window from when he first showed symptoms to when he was placed in isolation. Those people then need to be isolated and monitored for Ebola symptoms for the next 21 days to prevent further spread of the virus, he said.

Frieden said the individual came into contact with a "handful" of people: family members and a few people in the community. The incubation period for Ebola is from two to 21 days. It has a fatality rate of about 50 percent, and there is no known cure.

The CDC has said 12 other people in the United States have been tested for Ebola since July 27. Those tests came back negative.

Four American aid workers who have become infected while volunteering in West Africa have been treated in special isolation facilities in hospitals in Atlanta and Nebraska, and a U.S. doctor exposed to the virus in Sierra Leone is under observation in a similar facility at the National Institutes of Health.

The United States has only four such isolation units, but the CDC has insisted that any hospital can safely care for someone with Ebola.

According to the CDC, Ebola symptoms can include fever, muscle pain, vomiting and bleeding, and can appear as long as 21 days after exposure to the virus.

Jason McDonald, spokesman for the CDC, said health officials use two primary guidelines when deciding whether to test a person for the virus.

"The first and foremost determinant is have they traveled to the region [of West Africa]," he said. The second is whether there's been proximity to family, friends or others who've been exposed, he said.

U.S. health officials have been preparing since summer in case an individual traveler arrived here unknowingly infected, telling hospitals what infection-control steps to take to prevent the virus from spreading in health facilities. People boarding planes in the outbreak zone are checked for fever, but symptoms can begin up to 21 days after exposure. Ebola isn't contagious until symptoms begin, and it takes close contact with bodily fluids to spread.

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