Ebola patient’s relatives confined, Liberian authorities plan to prosecute

Thomas Eric Duncan
Thomas Eric Duncan

DALLAS (AP) — Four relatives of the U.S. Ebola patient were confined to their Texas home under armed guard Thursday as the circle of people possibly exposed to the virus widened and Liberian authorities said they would prosecute the man for allegedly lying on an airport questionnaire.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the unusual order was made after the family was “noncompliant” with a request not to leave their apartment. Texas State Health Commissioner David Lakey said the confinement would help ensure the relatives can be closely watched, including checking them for fevers over the next three weeks.

“We didn’t have the confidence we would have been able to monitor them the way that we needed to,” Lakey said.

The infected man’s belongings, including clothes and possibly sheets, are bagged inside the home so the family cannot come into contact with them until they are removed, Jenkins said.

Elsewhere, Texas health officials expanded their efforts to stem the risk of the Ebola virus spreading, reaching out to about 80 people who may have had direct contact with Thomas Eric Duncan or someone close to him.

None of the people is showing symptoms, but public-health officials have educated them about Ebola and told them to notify medical workers if they begin to feel ill, Erikka Neroes, a spokeswoman for the Dallas County Health and Human Services agency, said Thursday.

The group will be monitored to see if anyone seeks medical care during the three weeks immediately following the time of contact, Neroes said.

The 80 people include 12 to 18 who came in direct contact with the infected man, as well as others known to have had contact with them, she said.

“This is a big spider web” of people involved, Neroes said.

The initial group includes three members of the ambulance crew that took Duncan to the hospital, plus a handful of schoolchildren.

Ebola symptoms can include fever, muscle pain, vomiting and bleeding, and can appear as much as three weeks after exposure to the virus. The disease is not contagious until symptoms begin. It spreads only by close contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids.

In Liberia, authorities announced plans to prosecute Duncan, alleging that he lied on a form about not having any contact with an infected person.

Duncan filled out a series of questions about his health and activities before leaving on his journey to Dallas. On a Sept. 19 form obtained by The Associated Press, he answered no to all of them.

Among other questions, the form asked whether Duncan had cared for an Ebola patient or touched the body of anyone who had died in an area affected by Ebola.

“We expect people to do the honorable thing,” said Binyah Kesselly, chairman of the board of directors of the Liberia Airport Authority in Monrovia. The agency took the case to the Ministry of Justice, which will formally prosecute it.

Neighbors in the Liberian capital believe Duncan become infected when he helped bundle a sick pregnant neighbor into a taxi a few weeks ago and set off with her to find treatment.

The case has raised questions about whether a disease that has killed 3,300 people in West Africa could spread in the United States. U.S. health officials say they remain confident they can keep it contained.

Duncan arrived in Dallas on Sept. 20 to visit relatives and fell ill a few days later. His sister, Mai Wureh, identified him as the infected man in an interview with The Associated Press.

A Dallas emergency room sent Duncan home last week, even though he told a nurse that he had been in disease-ravaged West Africa. The decision by Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital to release Duncan could have put others at risk of exposure to Ebola before the man went back to the ER a couple of days later when his condition worsened.

He has been kept in isolation at the hospital since Sunday. He was listed Thursday in serious but stable condition.

Liberia is one of the three countries hit hardest in the epidemic, along with Sierra Leone and Guinea.

In Duncan’s Liberian neighborhood, a collection of tin-roofed homes, has been ravaged by Ebola. So many people have fallen ill that neighbors are too frightened to comfort a 9-year-old girl who lost her mother to the disease.

The 19-year-old pregnant woman was convulsing and complaining of stomach pain, and everyone thought her problems were related to her pregnancy, in its seventh month. No ambulance would come for her, and the group that put her in a taxi never did find a hospital.

She eventually died, and in the following weeks, all the neighbors who helped have gotten sick or died, neighbors said.

___

Paye-Layleh reported from Monrovia, Liberia. Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant and Paul J. Weber in Dallas, Emily Schmall in Fort Worth and Krista Larson in Monrovia also contributed to this report.

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