Dallas hospitals set up Ebola wards as city watches for spread

DALLAS (Reuters) - Hospitals in Dallas have set up Ebola isolation wards and revamped procedures to deal with new patients, as the sprawling Texas city waits to see if the deadly virus spreads following the first case diagnosed on U.S. soil.

An entrance sign to the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital is seen in Dallas, Texas, October 4, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young

Some 48 people are being monitored by health officials in Dallas after Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian visiting family in Dallas, came down with the disease in late September. He died early on Wednesday, hospital officials said.

Ebola’s incubation period can last as long as three weeks, but victims typically start showing symptoms within 10-14 days, making this week crucial, according to state officials.

Children’s Medical Center said it has set up an isolation unit for possible Ebola cases in part because five of the people that are being monitored after they were exposed to Duncan were children.

“We sincerely hope these preparations are nothing more than a drill,” the hospital said in an emailed statement.

Parkland Memorial Hospital and Baylor University Hospital, both in Dallas, also said they have isolation wards available to treat Ebola patients, and have geared up screening procedures and staff training.

Duncan’s case has put a spotlight on U.S. efforts to combat Ebola, which has killed nearly 4,000 people in West Africa since March in the worst outbreak on record.

Duncan was admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Sept. 28, two days after having initially been sent home with antibiotics by the hospital.

Liberian officials have also accused Duncan of lying on his exit questionnaire about whether he had been in contact with anyone infected with Ebola, raising questions about the effectiveness of airport screening.

The United States will begin new screening procedures for incoming air passengers at five major airports to help curb Ebola’s spread, the White House said on Wednesday.

Duncan arrived in Dallas Sept. 20.

Texas Health Presbyterian hospital said on Wednesday another man had been admitted after reporting contact with Duncan’s family and feeling ill. The CDC described the person as someone who “does not have definite contact with Ebola or definite symptoms of Ebola.”

Many Dallas residents said they were taking the Ebola scare in stride.

“I’m not scared. If you keep your hands washed, and be prudent, there’s nothing to worry about,” said Brian Bay, 33, a nursing student from Dallas.

A spokeswoman for the Texas State Fair in Dallas said the annual event, running from Sept. 26 to Oct. 19, had a record opening day attendance this year, despite the Ebola scare.

“It does not appear that this has affected the fair,” spokeswoman Karissa Schuler said, adding the organizers had made more hand sanitizer available this year.

Writing by Richard Valdmanis. Editing by Andre Grenon