This week, Thomas Eric Duncan became the first person who contracted Ebola abroad to die in the United States. Despite receiving care at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, Duncan’s condition was too advanced to save him even after he was administered an experimental antiviral drug. A new report published by the Associated Press, however, calls into question whether the hospital was justified when they released Duncan after his initial visit. That report suggests that the Ebola victim was heavily symptomatic on his first visit to the hospital, and that hospital staff ignored precaution that should have been taken when treating a potential Ebola carrier.
Duncan’s family recently released 1,400 pages of medical records to the AP, leading reporters to discover that Duncan had a fever which had spiked to 103 degrees while he was in hospital. Attending nurses, however, only gave him antibiotics, told to take Tylenol, and released him.
When he first showed up at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, the man complained of abdominal pain, dizziness, a headache and decreased urination. He reported severe pain — rating it an eight on a scale of 10. Doctors gave him CT scans to rule out appendicitis, stroke and numerous other serious ailments. Ultimately, he was prescribed antibiotics and told to take Tylenol, then returned to the apartment where he was staying with a Dallas woman and three other people.
After his condition worsened, someone in the apartment called 911, and paramedics took him back to the hospital on Sept. 28. That’s when he was admitted and swiftly put in isolation.
The documents also show that a nurse recorded early in Duncan’s first hospital visit that he recently came to the U.S. from Africa, though he denied having been in contact with anyone sick.
Some have wondered if hospital officials are truly to blame here. After all, releasing a patient with a high fever is not an atypical practice if care providers believe that high temperature will be short lived. That seems an excessively charitable assessment of this hospital’s behavior. Duncan was received well after national health officials warned the nation’s medical staff and airport officials to be on the lookout for symptomatic individuals who may have traveled to Ebola-affected areas.
Moreover, Duncan did tell his attending nurse that he had recently traveled to Africa. American health security cannot become dependent on the full disclosure of those who may have contracted this deadly virus – too many would understandably panic over the prospect of spending the rest of their short lives in isolated quarantine with the only human contact they will ever again receive being separated by a thin film of blue plastic.
Ebola patients are not contagious until they being evidencing symptoms, which Duncan was clearly doing when he was released by the hospital. It will be a miracle if he did not spread the infection further in the period he spent between admittances, when hospital officials estimate that he had contact with up to 100 people.
This Texas hospital has come under increasing criticism over the nature of care they provided Duncan after he was identified as an Ebola carrier, but they are sure to face a new series of critiques based on these latest revelations.
Those who are eager to absolve Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of any blame in this instance face an increasingly onerous burden of proof. The Associated Press report is quite damning.