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KU Hospital: Patient Admitted Monday At 'Low To Moderate Risk' Of Ebola

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The University of Kansas Hospital says a patient who recently worked as a medic on a ship off the coast of West Africa came to the hospital early Monday morning feeling sick and is being tested for Ebola.

The hospital said the patient was at "low to moderate risk" of Ebola but the hospital was taking no chances.

In a statement, it said the patient was met by staff wearing personal protection equipment and following guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Lee Norman, said at a news conference Monday evening that while he could not rule out Ebola, there are many other diseases fitting the patient’s symptoms. Tests to determine a diagnosis are expected no later than the end of the work day Tuesday. 

In the meantime, the patient has been placed in an isolated area of the hospital with its own ventilation system and staff will not treat other patients until a diagnosis is made.

Credit Alex Smith / KCUR
Dr. Lee Norman, chief medical officer of The University of Kansas Hospital, speaking at a news conference Monday evening.

“We put in our infection control practices right away — put a mask on him, didn’t let him have contact with anybody on his way in, whisked him right back to the room that we have specially appointed in the emergency department for this, where our staff, who are entirely in personal protective equipment, evaluated the patient,” Norman said. 

Norman said the patient was a Kansas City, Kan., resident in his 40s. He had been working on a commercial ship connected with the oil industry. It’s unclear whether he was exposed to the virus as testing for Ebola was unavailable on the ship. 

The patient’s fluids are being tested by the Centers for Disease Control and a private lab in Omaha. Results are expected by the end of the work day Tuesday. 

Norman said that the patient was more likely to have typhoid fever than Ebola. However, if he is determined to have Ebola, Norman said, he will continue to be treated at KU because he probably is in the early stage of the disease. 

Jill Chadwick, a spokeswoman for KU Hospital, said the patient had been isolated from the rest of the hospital population

"We don't want people to be panicked or worried because these people are isolated in the hospital," she said, referring to the patient and those caring for him. "They are not anywhere near the general population."

This is the second Ebola scare at the hospital. In September, a 23-year-old man who had returned home after serving with the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone called the hospital concerned that he had contracted the virus. Tests, however, showed he had a severe case of malaria.

Ebola is not an airborne disease. It is transmitted through contact with blood or bodily fluids such as sweat, saliva, vomit and semen. There is no cure for Ebola, but preliminary testing in humans of an Ebola vaccine was begun last month by the drug maker GlaxoSmithKline. 

In West Africa, where the current outbreak began earlier this year, official estimates put the number of people infected with Ebola at more than 8,000. More than 4,000 have died. 

The first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, a 42-year-old Liberian national named Thomas Eric Duncan, died at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas on Oct. 8. One of the nurses who cared for him has since tested positive for the disease. 

Although it has generated scare-inducing headlines, health experts say Ebola is very rare. Far more people die of the flu every year than have died collectively of Ebola. 

An earlier version of this story, citing erroneous information in a statement released by KU Hospital, said the patient had been admitted with a high fever. This story has also been updated to include additional information about the patient's condition and statements by hospital officials. 

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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