Maine CDC: Patient under observation in Portland not infected with Ebola

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PORTLAND — A patient under observation at Maine Medical Center in Portland does not have the Ebola virus, state health officials confirmed Tuesday.

The patient, who was at low risk for contracting the virus, was held for 24-hour observation as a precautionary measure, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.

The patient’s health improved, and the individual was released from the hospital. Multiple tests conducted by Maine Medical Center confirmed that the patient was not infected with the Ebola virus, according to the statement.

Maine Medical Center placed the individual under observation at the request of state and federal health officials “based on the patient’s symptoms and recent travel from a region of concern,” the Maine CDC statement said.

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Maine CDC Director Dr. Sheila Pinette said in an interview Tuesday that the patient had a fever, which is an early potential sign of the virus. She declined to specify where the patient had traveled or disclose any other details about the patient’s condition, citing federal privacy laws.

Nationally, health officials have focused on individuals with recent travel to West Africa, where the Ebola outbreak — the worst in recorded history — has killed more than 4,000 people since the beginning of the year.

In a separate statement, Maine Medical Center infectious disease specialist Dr. August Valenti said the patient was released Tuesday afternoon.

“We were appropriately cautious in treating this person and believe we took the best approach to rule out the prevalence of this condition while ensuring the health and safety of patients, staff and the community,” he said. “We are pleased that the patient is healthy and that no one was exposed to a potentially harmful virus.”

The patient was held voluntarily and monitored for symptoms and any abnormalities in lab work, Pinette said.

“Our patient was very cooperative with us,” she said.

Maine Medical Center issued a statement Monday that the hospital was holding the patient for observation under stepped-up federal precautions aimed at preventing the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

The patient arrived at the hospital’s emergency room Sunday, Valenti said Monday. The individual was isolated, and the hospital followed policies developed by the World Health Organization, which exceed the Ebola guidance issued by the federal CDC, he said.

Maine Medical Center also took precautions about a month ago when treating another patient, who ultimately tested negative for the virus, Valenti said.

Symptoms of Ebola appear two to 21 days after exposure to the virus, according to the U.S. CDC. Early symptoms include fever, weakness, severe headache, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach and joint pain, and unexplained bleeding.

Contracting the Ebola virus requires close contact with the infected person’s bodily fluids, such as blood, vomit, feces or urine. While the virus is far less transmissible than other viruses, such as SARS or the avian flu, it’s deadly, killing at least about 60 percent of infected individuals.

Even a small slip-up can expose a nurse or doctor treating an Ebola patient to the virus.

Maine Medical Center limited the number of health care workers involved in the patient’s treatment, allowing only essential staff who have been specially trained in stringent isolation precautions, Valenti said Monday.

Health officials have said the risk of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. is very low.

Maine CDC remains in daily contact with the federal CDC as the nation’s preparations against the Ebola virus continue to evolve, Pinette said.

“It’s difficult for us to expect the unexpected, but we continue to work with our federal, state and local partners,” she said.

Both Pinette and Valenti said caring for the Maine Medical Center patient served as a useful emergency preparedness exercise.

“While the experience of caring for this patient understandably caused concern within Maine Medical Center and the surrounding community, we can reflect on this case as a terrific emergency preparedness learning opportunity for our staff,” Valenti said. “Based on our treatment and coordination with state and federal officials, we are confident in our ability to effectively care for patients with Ebola and other infectious diseases while maintaining their privacy and the health and safety of all our patients and staff.”

Valenti also thanked the Maine Medical Center staff who attended to the patient and “demonstrated expert and compassionate care even when faced with a potentially harmful situation.”

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