An Ebola scare closed a Charlotte area emergency room briefly overnight in an incident that may play out many times over in the coming weeks with heightened fears about the virus.
It turns out it wasn't Ebola, but a spike in media coverage about the outbreak, along with some reminders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have put hospital staff on alert.
"Late last evening, a patient arrived at Carolinas Medical Center Emergency Department after visiting a country known for high risk of infectious diseases," Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte said in a statement Wednesday.
"We took all appropriate infection control measures to protect patients, staff, and visitors. After consulting with the Centers for Disease Control and NC Department of Health and Human Services, it appears the risk for communicable disease is low. No further testing is needed and the patient will be sent home. The Emergency Department at Carolinas Medical Center remains open and operating normally."
The state health department said it wasn't necessary to test the patient for Ebola.
"The clinical care team and public health officials have reviewed the case in great detail and have determined that the patient’s illness and epidemiologic information are not consistent with Ebola infection," it said in a statement.
"The patient is currently receiving treatment for another unrelated condition and does not represent a public health threat."
Ebola has infected more than 1,200 people in three West African countries, and killed close to 700 of them. The outbreak received extra medical attention when two Americans became infected, and a Liberian man with family in the United States died.
Officials at Boone, North Carolina-based Samaritan's Purse say the two Americans infected while working to save patients in Liberia are still fighting for their own lives.
"Dr. Kent Brantly, a doctor working for Samaritan's Purse, and Nancy Writebol, a missionary with SIM (Serving in Mission), have shown a slight improvement in the past 24 hours. However, both remain in serious condition in Liberia, where they are being treated for Ebola," the group said in a statement.
"Because of instability and ongoing security issues in the area, Samaritan's Purse is making arrangements for nonessential personnel to leave the country. We ask that people continue to pray for Kent and Nancy and all those who are affected by Ebola, and the tremendous group of doctors and nurses who are caring for them."
Relatives of Brantly and Writebol who were in Liberia are taking their temperatures several times a day to make sure they do not develop a fever -- usually the first symptom of Ebola infection. Brantly's wife and children returned to the United States days before he became ill; Writebol's husband David is in Liberia with her.
CDC officials say the risk of Ebola spreading in the U.S. is low, even as they stress that any disease is only a flight away from the U.S. or any other country with an airport. That point was driven home last week when Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian-American, died in Lagos, Nigeria after taking a flight from Monrovia.
“Ebola poses little risk to the U.S. general population,” Stephan Monroe of CDC’s National Center for Emerging & Zoonotic Infectious Diseases told reporters in a conference call earlier this week. That's because you have to be in direct contact with someone who is ill to become infected.
CDC has quarantine stations in major airports and agents can forcibly isolate or quarantine people with symptoms of Ebola and other diseases such as cholera, tuberculosis, plague or bird flu.
But CDC reminded clinics and hospitals across the country about the standard drill. People showing up ill should be asked about whether they have been to West Africa in recent weeks or in close contact with someone who had been and who was ill. If there's any chance, they should be isolated and anyone in contact with such a patient should wear protective gear and take other measures until Ebola or another infectious disease has been ruled out.
Similar incidents have happened with MERS -- the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus, which was carried into the country twice by travelers, both of whom recovered fully without infecting anybody else. Emergency rooms are still also keeping an eye out for MERS, asking patients in this case about recent travel to the Middle East.