It took about seven minutes for a man to be whisked into isolation at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital on Monday after he arrived at the emergency room with symptoms common to Ebola, health officials said as they awaited test results on the patient.
The man, who has not been identified, is at least the second person tested for possible Ebola in the last week in New York City. Last Wednesday, a patient was admitted to Bellevue Hospital and "immediately isolated with consideration for Ebola virus," the city's Health and Hospitals Corp. said in a statement.
"However, the patient is improving and … this diagnosis is no longer being considered" following consultations with health officials, the statement said.
Officials at Mount Sinai said they hoped to get results on their facility's patient within 24 to 48 hours. They said there was no threat to anyone else in the hospital because of the rapid response from medical workers who had been alerted to the Ebola outbreak ravaging West Africa and trained in how to respond.
They also said it was unlikely the man had the disease. "Odds are this is not Ebola," Jeremy Boal, Mount Sinai's chief medical officer, said at a news conference. "It's much more likely … a more common condition."
When the patient arrived at the emergency room early Monday with a high fever and gastrointestinal problems and told doctors he had been in West Africa, he was immediately quarantined in accordance with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Boal said.
"It was about seven minutes" from the time he came through the door until he was placed in isolation, Boal said.
Symptoms of Ebola, which has killed hundreds of people in four West African countries since March, can be similar to influenza, malaria and other ailments that do not require isolation. Hence, U.S. hospitals have been advised to treat anyone who shows up with the symptoms to be tested for the virus and isolated.
The first known case of Ebola virus coming to U.S. soil occurred Saturday when a medical ambulance brought an American doctor, Kent Brantly, to Atlanta for treatment at Emory University Hospital. Brantly and an aid worker, Nancy Writebol, fell ill with Ebola in Liberia last week while treating others stricken by the disease.
Writebol is scheduled to arrive in Atlanta on Tuesday. The Associated Press late Monday said Writebol's plane had taken off from Liberia.
At Mount Sinai, David Reich, the hospital president, said officials had been in touch with experts at Emory in the event the New York facility also found itself treating Ebola. There is no cure or vaccine, and the disease kills more than half the people it infects.
Reich and Boal, citing patient privacy, would not say which country the man had been in, whether he came to the hospital with relatives, or how long he had been in the United States except to say he had traveled here "in the last month."
They said they were confident that no one on the city's crowded subways or streets, or on the jet he traveled in, would be in danger.
"I think the most important thing people should understand is that if this is a case of Ebola … it is not transmitted by casual contact," Reich said. "The patient was isolated very promptly, so we don't feel any testing is necessary for anyone who might have come in contact casually with the patient."
Hospital officials were working with the man's family members to ensure they were checked for fevers twice daily for a few days, Reich added.
Ebola, which has an incubation period of two to 21 days, is only contagious when a person is symptomatic. The man was the first person to be tested at Mount Sinai for the disease.
If the tests came back positive for Ebola, Reich said the man could be treated at Mount Sinai. "We believe we have all the necessary facilities to treat any patient with Ebola disease," he said.