This evening, the New York Times confirmed that a doctor in New York City who recently returned from treating Ebola patients in Guinea tested positive for the Ebola virus. Craig Spencer was working with Doctors Without Borders to provide desperately needed treatment in the West African country.
While the diagnosis is a serious public health event in a densely packed urban area, there is reason to be optimistic that the disease will not spread and the people of New York City will be safe.
1. According to reports, the doctor reported his condition as soon as he exhibited symptoms. The New York Times reports that Spencer “did not develop a fever until Thursday morning.” He then immediately reported his symptoms and was transported to the hospital by emergency medical workers in protective gear. People with Ebola “cannot spread the disease until they begin to display symptoms.”
2. Spencer’s subway ride on Wednesday night was highly unlikely to pose a danger to fellow travelers. Spencer did ride the New York City Subway on Wednesday night to go bowling. But he was not displaying symptoms at the time. Except in the very sickest patients, the virus is primary “spread through blood, feces and vomit.” As a result, Ebola is “extremely unlikely to spread through public transit.” There has been no documented case of “transmission to a human from a dry surface” like a subway pole. The disease is not airborn.
3. New York City hospitals are prepared. Various hospitals in New York City have been drilling to screen for potential cases of Ebola. Bellevue, where Spencer was transported, was designated to receive suspected or confirmed Ebola cases. Staff is equipped with “Tyvek gowns, a white bodysuit that is impervious to fluids” and other protective gear. Spencer is being treated in one of four isolation rooms. There is also “a separate laboratory in the infectious disease ward to handle Ebola blood samples, so they will not have to be transported around the hospital.”
The crisis, still, is not in New York City but in West Africa. According to the World Health Organization there are nearly 10,000 reported cases and Ebola continues to spread in the region.