New York (CNN) — A Doctors Without Borders physician who recently returned to New York from West Africa has tested positive for the Ebola virus, becoming the first diagnosed case in the city, authorities said late Thursday.
The doctor, identified as Craig Spencer, 33, came back from treating Ebola patients in Guinea October 17 and developed a fever, nausea, pain and fatigue Thursday. He is in isolation and being treated at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, one of the eight hospitals statewide that Gov. Andrew Cuomo designated earlier this month as part of an Ebola preparedness plan.
Spencer, who is hospitalized in intensive care, went for a jog, may have gone to a restaurant, traveled the city’s vast subway system and went bowling before feeling ill, but authorities stressed that the likelihood of him spreading the virus was low.
“We want to state at the outset there is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters late Thursday.
Health officials said three people who had been in contact with Spencer — his fiancée and two friends — were healthy and would be quarantined and monitored. A fourth, a car service driver, had no physical contact with the patient and was not considered at risk.
Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, New York City’s health commissioner, said Spencer completed his work in Guinea on October 12 and left Africa two days later via Europe. He arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport on October 17. She said he exhibited no symptoms during his journey or any time afterward until Thursday morning. He had been checking his temperature twice a day.
Spencer went for a three-mile jog and visited a bowling alley in Brooklyn named The Gutter prior to feeling symptomatic Thursday morning, Bassett said. The bowling alley has been closed. He also traveled on three subway lines. Authorities are checking his MetroCard to determine where else he went.
“At the time that the doctor was on the subway he did not have fever … he was not symptomatic,” according to Bassett, who said the chances of anyone contracting the virus from contact with Spencer were “close to nil.”
De Blasio and Bassett were joined by Gov. Cuomo at a news conference to allay concerns about the spread of the virus, especially via public transportation.
“We are as ready as one could be for this circumstance,” Cuomo said, adding that the situation in his state is different than what happened in Texas, where a man from Liberia was diagnosed with Ebola and two health care workers who treated him later contracted the virus.
“We had the advantage of learning from the Dallas experience,” Cuomo said.
De Blasio added, “Ebola is very difficult to contract. Being on the same subway car or living near someone with Ebola does not put anyone at risk.”
The physician, employed at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, has been in isolation at Bellevue since he was taken there by emergency personnel Thursday morning.
His Manhattan apartment has been isolated.
Earlier Thursday, de Blasio — without naming the doctor being treated — said that “careful protocols were followed every step of the way” in the city’s handling of the case. The hospitalized doctor has “worked closely” with health officials, the mayor said.
The doctor exhibited symptoms of the Ebola virus for “a very brief period of time” and had direct contact with “very few people” in New York, de Blasio told reporters.
On his Facebook page, Spencer posted a photo of himself in protective gear. The page indicates he went to Guinea around September 18 and later to Brussels in mid October.
“Off to Guinea with Doctors Without Borders (MSF)” he wrote. “Please support organizations that are sending support or personnel to West Africa, and help combat one of the worst public health and humanitarian disasters in recent history.”
In a statement, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital said the doctor was “a dedicated humanitarian” who went to “an area of medical crisis to help a desperately underserved population.”
“He is a committed and responsible physician who always puts his patients first,” the hospital statement said. “He has not been to work at our hospital and has not seen any patients at our hospital since his return from overseas.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had people packing up to go to New York on Thursday, and a specimen from the physician was to be sent to CDC headquarters in Atlanta for testing, an official familiar with the situation told CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen.
In a statement Thursday, Doctors Without Borders confirmed that the physician recently returned from West Africa and was “engaged in regular health monitoring.” The doctor contacted Doctors Without Borders Thursday to report a fever, the statement said.
The doctor began feeling sluggish a couple of days ago, but it wasn’t until Thursday, when he developed 100.3-degree fever, that he contacted Doctors Without Borders, authorities said.
The case came to light after the New York Fire Department received a call shortly before noon Thursday about a sick person in Manhattan. The patient was taken to Bellevue.
Mark Levine, a city councilman who represents the doctor’s Manhattan neighborhood, said earlier Thursday, before news broke of the doctor’s positive test, that city health department workers were canvassing the area, distributing information on the disease door-to-door, according to CNN affiliate WABC.
“The goal right now is to make sure people don’t panic,” he said.
The health department said a special ambulance unit transported a patient suffering from a fever and gastrointestinal symptoms.
Bellevue Hospital is designated for the “isolation, identification and treatment of potential Ebola patients” in the city, the statement said.
“As a further precaution, beginning today (Thursday), the Health Department’s team of disease detectives immediately began to actively trace all of the patient’s contacts to identify anyone who may be at potential risk,” the health department statement said.
“The chances of the average New Yorker contracting Ebola are extremely slim,” the statement said, adding that the disease is spread by direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.
Ebola has killed nearly 5,000 people, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. But fears about its spread has mounted since the first person diagnosed with the disease in the United States was hospitalized in Texas last month.
Thomas Eric Duncan, who had flown from Liberia to Dallas, died on October 8. Two nurses who treated him became infected with the virus and are undergoing treatment, with the cases raising questions about the ability of local and federal officials to deal with an outbreak in the United States.
Starting Monday, all travelers coming to the United States from Ebola-affected areas will be actively monitored for 21 days.
In addition, all U.S.-bound passengers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea must land in one of the five U.S. airports with enhanced screening for Ebola: New York’s John F. Kennedy International, Washington Dulles, New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International, Chicago’s O’Hare International and Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta.
(Reuters) – A doctor who worked in West Africa with Ebola patients was in an isolation unit in New York City on Friday after testing positive for the virus, becoming the fourth person diagnosed with the disease in the United States and the first in its largest city.
Dr. Craig Spencer, 33, was placed in a quarantined unit at Bellevue Hospital on Thursday, six days after returning from Guinea, renewing public jitters about transmission of the disease and rattling financial markets.
Three people who had close contact with Spencer, a physician for the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, were quarantined for observation – one of them, his fiancée, at the same hospital – but all were still healthy, officials said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo sought to reassure New Yorkers they were safe, even though Spencer had ridden subways, taken a taxi and visited a bowling alley between his return from Guinea and the onset of his symptoms.
“There is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed,” de Blasio said at a news conference at Bellevue. “Being on the same subway car or living near someone with Ebola does not in itself put someone at risk.”
Cuomo said that unlike in Dallas, where two hospital nurses treating an Ebola patient contracted the disease, New York officials had time to thoroughly prepare and drill for the possibility of a case emerging in their city.
“From a public health point of view, I feel confident that we’re doing everything that we should be doing, and we have the situation under control,” he said.
The worst Ebola outbreak on record has killed at least 4,877 people and perhaps as many as 15,000, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to World Health Organization figures.
Four Ebola cases have been diagnosed so far in the United States: Liberian Thomas Eric Duncan, who died on Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, two nurses who treated him there and Spencer.
Health officials emphasize that the virus is not airborne but is spread only through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person who is showing symptoms.
After taking his own temperature twice daily since his return, Spencer reported running a fever and experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms for the first time early on Thursday. He was then taken from his Manhattan apartment to Bellevue by a special team wearing protective gear, city officials said.
He was not feeling sick and would not have been contagious before Thursday morning, city Health Commissioner Mary Travis Bassett said.
Owners of the bowling alley he visited said they had voluntarily closed for the day as a precaution. But the driver of the ride-sharing taxi Spencer took was not considered to be at risk, and officials insisted the three subway lines he rode before falling ill remained safe.
“We consider that it is extremely unlikely, the probability being close to nil, that there would be any problem related to his taking the subway system,” Bassett said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will confirm Spencer’s test results within 24 hours, she said.
President Barack Obama was briefed about the New York Ebola case and spoke by telephone separately on Thursday night with Cuomo and de Blasio, the White House said.
RESIDENTS, INVESTORS RATTLED
Spencer’s case brings to nine the total number of people treated for the disease in U.S. hospitals since August, but just two – Duncan’s nurses – contracted the virus in the United States.
The New York case surfaced days after dozens of people who were exposed to Duncan emerged from a 21-day incubation period with clean bills of health, easing a national sense of crisis that took hold when his nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, became infected.
“I’m really concerned,” said Kiki Howard, 26, a student who lives on a street near Spencer’s home in Harlem. “There’s a school at the end of the block. My main concern is for the safety of the children.”
“I just moved here from Dallas three weeks ago,” said Emma Clarke, a dancer who also lives nearby.
The city health commissioner said Spencer’s apartment was isolated and sealed off. “I see no reason for the tenants in the apartment building to be concerned,” she said.
In a sign that the latest Ebola case had unnerved investors, S&P futures fell 9 points or 0.45 percent. The dollar slipped against the euro and the U.S. 10-year Treasury rose, lowering its yield to about 2.24 percent.
The health commissioner said Spencer completed work in Guinea on Oct. 12 and arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Oct. 17. His Facebook page, which included a photo of him clad in protective gear, said he stopped over in Brussels.
Spencer has specialized in international emergency medicine at Columbia University-New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City since 2011.
Columbia in a statement said he had not been to work nor seen any patients since his return.
A woman named Morgan Dixon was identified on Spencer’s Facebook page as his fiancée. Her Linked-In profile said she worked in nonprofit management and international development with the Hope Program, a career development agency for homeless and welfare-dependent adults.
The CDC did not name Spencer but said he “participated in the enhanced screening” instituted for all travelers returning from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone this month at five major U.S. airports – including Kennedy.
The doctor “went through multiple layers of screening and did not have a fever or other symptoms of illness,” the CDC added in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Natasja Sheriff, Barbara Goldberg, Jonathan Allen and Laila Kearney in New York; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Louise Ireland and Howard Goller)