Health News

After Ebola scare in South Florida, mayor says test results negative

After South Florida went on high alert Sunday when it was feared an ill teen visiting Miami Beach from West Africa might have contracted Ebola, Monday brought a sigh of relief.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine reported that the Ebola screening test performed by the Department of Health came up negative and that the results are being sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a final test.

On Sunday, experts were taking no chances.

Hazardous materials teams were called in. A pediatric hospital unit was quarantined. Surrounding streets at Jackson Memorial Hospital were blocked.

Even so, medical experts said the probability of Ebola in this case was extremely low. But health authorities nevertheless acted urgently.

The teen had gone to Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach when he became sick with flu-like symptoms. A special team transferred him to Jackson on Sunday for further tests.

Gov. Rick Scott said Sunday night that the Florida Department of Health was working with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “to test a patient at a local Miami hospital who was screened today for Ebola.”

“It’s important to point out that this patient did not meet the CDC case definition for Ebola, but the test is being conducted out of an abundance of caution, and health officials expect the test to rule out Ebola,” Scott said.

A firm diagnosis can take 48 hours, experts say.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine told the Miami Herald that after speaking Sunday to Department of Health and CDC officials, it appeared the likelihood of Ebola was low.

But the precautions were high.

Several police cars and rescue vehicles ringed Holtz Children’s Hospital in the Jackson medical complex after the teenager was transferred. Jackson spokesman Edwin O’Dell said the hospital was prepared to handle the case if it turned out to be Ebola.

“Jackson has been publicly forthcoming in asserting our confidence and readiness, and that we have established and tested protocols to deal with infectious diseases in general and with Ebola in specific,” he said in a statement. “We will do everything to ensure safety and treatment for all of our patients.”

Authorities would not give the patient’s name or say which West African country he had arrived from, or when. O’Dell said the hospital would not release more information about the patient “without consent.”

Sunday’s transfer of the patient shut down access to Jackson for some visitors.

Moise Gilles, 27, of Miami was trying to see his newborn son, Nathan, in the Intensive Care Unit, but found it blocked off.

He said he saw people wearing what looked like hazardous-material suits inside. “There were people with masks everywhere,” he said.

The pediatric unit was quarantined for about two hours before reopening.

Miami Fire Rescue spokesman Capt. Ignatius Carroll said his department got the call to handle the patient at 4 p.m. Sunday. He confirmed that the teen had been transferred to Jackson and was being treated there.

“Because they weren’t sure what the teenager had, they took full precautionary measures,” Carroll said.

Numerous factors go into determining whether a patient has Ebola, said Dr. Aileen Marty, a professor of infectious diseases at Florida International University, who recently returned from an Ebola-screening mission in Nigeria. Once the symptoms are defined, doctors have to figure out when and where the patient may have been exposed to the disease, if it all.

Then, the patient would undergo genetic testing once, then once again 48 hours later to make the final diagnosis.

Since authorities would not say where in West Africa the teen was from, it was unclear Sunday whether he could have been exposed, Marty said. Some countries, like Ghana and Benin, have reported no cases at all. In others, like Liberia and Guinea, the disease is rampant.

Marty predicted the United States would continue to be on high alert since a case was diagnosed in Texas last week.

“We’re going to be seeing a lot of Ebola scares in the next few weeks, I’m afraid,” she said.

If a person does believe he or she has Ebola, Marty said, the most important course of action is to be up-front with doctors and nurses so they know not to have direct contact with the patient. Many of those infected with the disease are healthcare providers, she said.

Ebola, a deadly virus originating in West Africa, spreads through a sick person’s bodily fluids.

Last Tuesday, Thomas Eric Duncan, who had traveled to Liberia, was diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas. He was the first person in the United States to be diagnosed with the disease, which is spreading rapidly through West Africa and has killed more than 3,000 people, according to the World Health Organization.

Florida’s governor said that even though the state does not have any confirmed cases, preparation is paramount.

“We know from our experience in responding to hurricanes that we must prepare for the worst even as we hope for the best,” he said.

With that in mind, the Florida Department of Health requested 30 additional Ebola testing kits from the CDC to ensure that all of Florida’s public hospitals “have the ability to test patients who county health officials and the CDC believe need to be tested for Ebola.” The Health Department also requested “100 units of additional high-level personal protective equipment to ensure the state is ready to backfill any county whose medical personnel develop a future need for these supplies.”

“We know Florida’s hospitals and county health offices are prepared to identify and treat patients who may have Ebola,” Scott said in his statement. “While they are prepared on the local level, the state is requesting increased federal resources out of an abundance of caution for the unlikely event that we may have an extended response that warrants additional resources.”

Miami Herald writer Patrick Riley contributed to this report. Follow @joeflech on Twitter.