Authorities overseeing the Dallas County response to Ebola virus said Friday all 48 people being monitored for possible contact with deceased patient Thomas Eric Duncan have yet to show symptoms.
“We’ve seen the bell curve is going sharply in our favor. It is less likely each day that there will be another person that falls ill,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.
As of Friday, the 21-day possible incubation period for Ebola still had 9 days to go since Duncan was first isolated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. He died there on Wednesday.
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Duncan walked into the Presbyterian emergency room Sept. 26 but was later released. Two days later he returned in an ambulance and was admitted to isolation as an Ebola patient. Test results confirmed the diagnosis on Sept. 30.
New information about Duncan's care from medical records obtained by the Associated Press show Duncan had a 103-degree fever the day he first visited the emergency room.
The issues were discussed Friday at a Congressional Homeland Security hearing on Ebola where Jenkins was a speaker.
“There’s a lot of fear and panic out there, but we cannot let fear and panic cause us to abandon science,” Jenkins said.
Experts say Ebola can only be transmitted by direct contact with body fluids of a patient who is actively showing symptoms, and the 48 people being monitored are the only people in Dallas County that could have had that exposure, officials said.
Dallas Attorney David Walsh, who specializes in representing doctors and medical providers, said Texas law will make it difficult to bring lawsuits against the hospital.
Tort reform passed by the Texas Legislature several years ago limits emergency room liability to “willful and wanton negligence,” Walsh said.
“The legislature came to the realization there’s a lot of different things going on that are complex in the ER, and they wanted to make sure that ER providers are willing to undertake that complexity of work,” Walsh said.
Furthermore, under Texas law, survivors of a deceased patient must be able to prove there was a greater than 50-percent chance of survival, and Walsh said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated Ebola patients stand no better than a 45-percent chance, even with U.S. medical care.
Still, Walsh believes Presbyterian Hospital faces a public relations night mare that will not disappear quickly.
State and federal investigations of the hospital’s conduct are likely once the Ebola monitoring is over.
“They’re going to come circle back around and see what happened, and there will be an investigation for sure into what happened. And there’s no telling what the repercussions will be because they let a patient go that they shouldn’t have,” Walsh said.
Presbyterian Hospital spokesman Warren Watson issued a statement:
“Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas continues to closely review and evaluate the chain of events related to the first Ebola virus diagnosis in the United States. At the same time, we have made changes to our intake process as well as other procedures to better screen for all critical indicators of Ebola virus. In addition, Spohn Memorial in Corpus Christi today reached out to us about our experience and learnings. We briefed them and will continue to make our professionals available to any health system diagnosing potential new cases of Ebola.
“The nurses, doctors and team who cared for Mr. Duncan, as well as the entire Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas community, grieve his death. We are committed to providing the best possible care to every patient we see, and to sharing our experiences and learnings in managing this insidious disease with the broader health care community.”