Ebola fear ends for dozens on US watch lists

Weeks of worry about Ebola infection ended on Monday for several dozen people who came off watch lists in the United States, but more than 260 others were still being monitored for symptoms as the US government ramped up its response to the virus.

Reuters| Last Updated: Oct 21, 2014, 00:14 AM IST

Dallas: Weeks of worry about Ebola infection ended on Monday for several dozen people who came off watch lists in the United States, but more than 260 others were still being monitored for symptoms as the US government ramped up its response to the virus.

In Texas, 43 people who had contact with Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with the disease in the United States, were cleared of twice-daily monitoring after showing no symptoms during a 21-day incubation period. The Texas health department said they included four people who shared an apartment with Duncan and had been in quarantine. It said 120 people in Texas were still being monitored.

"There`s zero risk that any of those people who have been marked off the list have Ebola. They were in contact with a person who had Ebola and the time period for them to get Ebola has lapsed. It is over. They do not have Ebola," Judge Clay Jenkins, the top elected official in Dallas County, said at a news conference.

Three people were still in quarantine in Ohio, among 142 under different levels of monitoring, the state health department said. The three in quarantine had direct skin contact with a nurse who visited the state after being infected while treating Duncan. Another Texas nurse also has Ebola and is being treated by the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH infectious diseases unit, said on Monday that the nurses "did not do anything wrong. Period," and that new protocols would come out within hours to a day.

"The way that was written was a risk for the nurses," Fauci told a "town hall" meeting sponsored by Washington news radio station WTOP. "They went by the protocol. They got infected.”

The government`s new guidelines were expected to tell US health workers to cover skin and hair completely when dealing with Ebola patients. The old guidelines, based on World Health Organization protocols, said workers should wear masks but allowed some skin exposure. The virus is spread through direct contact with the blood and bodily fluids of infected people and it is not airborne.

While only three people have been diagnosed with the disease in the United States, the end of monitoring for some could ease widespread anxiety over Ebola in the country, where some lawmakers have called for a travel ban from West Africa to check the spread of the virus.

"There`s no question, today is a milestone day," Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said at a news conference. "It`s a hurdle that we need to get over, but there are other hurdles to also jump."

    The worst Ebola outbreak on record has killed more than 4,500 people, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The World Health Organization declared Nigeria free of Ebola on Monday after 42 days with no new cases, a success story for African nations struggling to contain the virus. Senegal was declared free of Ebola by the WHO on Friday.

On Sunday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf urged stronger international action to control the epidemic, saying it was unleashing an economic catastrophe that would leave a "lost generation" of young West Africans.

Even as health officials cleared some of those who had been monitored for signs of Ebola, the US government prepared to try to remedy missteps that rattled Americans` faith in the medical system after Duncan died on Oct. 8, and the nurses were infected.

The man newly appointed by President Barack Obama to oversee the response, lawyer Ron Klain, will start work this week with a mandate to ease anxiety over the virus and fix federal coordination with states to control its spread. He was invited to testify at a House of Representatives oversight hearing on Friday, a committee official said. 

In addition, the US military plans to create an emergency response team of infectious disease doctors, nurses and trainers to help in the event of an Ebola crisis in the United States. The team would not be deployed in West Africa or elsewhere overseas.

The 43 people removed from watch lists included Louise Troh, Duncan`s fiancée, and three others who shared an apartment with Duncan after he arrived in Dallas in late September.

Clay Jenkins, the Dallas County judge, said an additional person would be removed from the watch list later Monday, and four others in the coming days.

The "magic date" for 27 people who remained on the lists after direct contact with Duncan was Nov. 7, said Rawlings, the Dallas mayor.

In a public letter during the weekend, Texas Health Resources Chief Executive Barclay Berdan acknowledged that Texas Health Presbyterian, where Duncan first went, made mistakes, including initially not diagnosing him with Ebola.