A New York City physician who returned from West Africa a week ago has tested positive for the Ebola virus and is being treated in isolation at Bellevue Hospital Center, city and state officials said last night in announcing the region's first case.
The patient, Dr. Craig Spencer, 33, of West Harlem, reported having a 103-degree fever and gastrointestinal symptoms yesterday morning, health officials said.
A specially trained team in protective suits took him by ambulance to the Manhattan hospital, officials said.
"There is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed," Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a hospital news conference, also attended by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. "Ebola is an extremely hard disease to contract. Being in the same subway car or living near a person with Ebola does not in itself put someone at risk."
Spencer had volunteered earlier this month in Guinea through Doctors Without Borders and left the country on Oct. 14, according to city health commissioner Mary T. Bassett.
On Oct. 17, the doctor landed at Kennedy Airport, where he went through enhanced screening for the virus. He did not have any symptoms, but subsequently took his own temperature twice a day as a precaution, Bassett said.
He reported developing a fever to the nonprofit group yesterday morning, officials said. The group said it "immediately notified" the health department.
City health officials earlier yesterday said "disease detectives" immediately began tracing Spencer's movements to identify anyone at risk.
Health officials stressed the virus doesn't spread easily, but said Spencer had been out in the city since his return.
Before feeling fatigued, Spencer rode the subway's A, L and No. 1 trains, did some jogging, went to a bowling alley in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and walked on the High Line in Manhattan, Bassett said. She said he had also been in close contact with his fiancee, two friends and a cabdriver.
The fiancee has been quarantined but is in good health, officials said.
The cab service that Spencer used put out a statement saying that the service had been assured by the CDC and the city health department that "neither our driver partner nor any of his subsequent passengers are at risk . . . Our thoughts are with the patient and his loved ones."
Bassett said people cannot contract Ebola from an infected person unless the victim is sick, and she emphasized the doctor did not develop a fever until Thursday.
She said the bowling alley has temporarily closed out of an "abundance of caution" and that health officials planned to visit the facility Friday.
President Barack Obama spoke by phone to both Cuomo and de Blasio on the new Ebola case, promising additional federal support on a range of fronts, including the patient's care and the monitoring of others potentially at risk, according to a White House statement. Obama also noted the "extensive preparations" by the city and Bellevue and said his prayers were with the patient, the statement said.
No reason for panic
The patient's test results were analyzed at an special isolation laboratory near Bellevue. Bellevue is one of eight hospitals in the state designated to handle Ebola cases. Bassett said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will confirm the results.
Cuomo said he has spoken to the White House's new Ebola czar and that officials throughout the state have been working "night and day" to prepare for infected patients. "I know the word Ebola . . . can spread fear," the governor said. "We are as ready as one could be for this circumstance."
State and city health officials stressed that there is no reason for panic.
"You can only get Ebola by being exposed to bodily fluids," said acting state health commissioner Howard Zucker, adding: "I would get on the subway tomorrow."
Spencer is an emergency physician with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, according to the hospital's website. He was identified as the patient by a spokesman for City Councilman Mark Levine.
John Roston, 38, who lives in the same building as Spencer, said a city health department employee knocked on his door and told him one of his neighbors was being tested for Ebola.
The worker handed him a pamphlet, in English and Spanish, describing the virus.
"I hope he gets all the care he deserves. He's a good human being," Roston said. "Every time I see him, he's in scrubs."
Has not seen patients
In a statement, NewYork-Presbyterian said the doctor "has not been to work at our hospital and has not seen any patients at our hospital since his return from overseas."
He is "a dedicated humanitarian on the staff . . . who went to an area of medical crisis to help a desperately underserved population," the hospital said. "He is a committed and responsible physician who always puts his patients first. . . . Our thoughts are with him, and we wish him all the best at this time."
After consulting with Bellevue and the CDC, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene decided to test Spencer for Ebola "because of this patient's recent travel history, pattern of symptoms, and past work."
The CDC Thursday dispatched a "go" team of viral experts and other doctors, part of the agency's plan to contain the spread of the virus.
CDC officials said they already had a team of Ebola experts in the city to assess hospitals' readiness for Ebola patients when the first case cropped up.
De Blasio said earlier the patient has provided detailed information to authorities about his actions and contacts since returning.
"It's been a very brief period of time that the patient has had symptoms" and he is "in good shape," the mayor said.
According to a March 1 posting on the hospital's emergency medicine website, Spencer is a recently graduated International Emergency Fellow who has worked on projects in East Africa, which so far has been spared from the outbreak. Ebola has infected 9,915 so far and killed 4,555, primarily in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the CDC.
Last week, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, announced his agency would send a rapid response squad, which he likened to a SWAT team to any hospital in the country that diagnoses a case of Ebola. He said the team is on standby and would be on the ground within the time it takes to fly from Atlanta.
"These are people who have led everything from laboratory infection control to hospital infection control," he said adding that the team also includes doctors and experts in nursing care.
"One of the things that the teams are doing is improving safety, looking at every step in the procedures and they are able to make immediate enhancements," Frieden said.
In the United States, Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who traveled to Dallas, died Oct. 8 after contracting Ebola. Two nurses who treated him were also diagnosed with the virus and have been recovering.
CDC scientists say diagnosing Ebola in someone infected for only a few days is difficult.
Early symptoms, such as fever, are vague and may be representative of other infectious conditions, such as malaria and typhoid fever.
The virus can be diagnosed definitively after several days of initial symptoms through tests called PCR and ELISA, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, a specialist in infectious diseases and chief executive of Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre.