(Bloomberg) — A New York City doctor has tested positive for Ebola after returning from aid work in West Africa, spurring authorities to track his movements and city and state officials to reassure the public the risk of contracting the disease is minimal.
It is the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the most populous U.S. city. The doctor, Craig Spencer, 33, is being treated in an isolation unit at Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan. At the same time, officials are monitoring those who were with him during a time when he traveled on the subway, went bowling and had close contact with three friends.
Spencer arrived in New York Oct. 17, and came down with a temperature yesterday. His case puts a spotlight on how tough it may be to control Ebola’s spread, potentially spurring new debate on how to protect the U.S. It also supports recent efforts to prepare for such cases.
“We are as ready as one can be for this circumstance,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, one of several officials who spoke out yesterday to lessen city fears. “New York is a dense place, a lot of people on top of each other. But the more you know, the less frightening it is.”
Spencer, an emergency medicine doctor at Columbia University-New York Presbyterian Hospital, is the second person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. after arriving from West Africa, where the disease has infected more than 10,000 people, killing about half. Thomas Eric Duncan died from the disease in a Dallas hospital after infecting two nurses who remain hospitalized.
Spencer returned to New York from Guinea, one of three countries where the Ebola outbreak has been raging, after working there with Doctors Without Borders. He hasn’t been attending to patients at the hospital since returning, New York Presbyterian said in a statement.
Spencer began feeling tired on Oct. 21, and first noticed he had a fever sometime about 10 a.m. yesterday. He then immediately alerted Doctors Without Borders, New York City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said. The aid group contacted health authorities and Spencer was brought to Bellevue, a state- designated center for such cases, in a special ambulance.
“The individual engaged in regular health monitoring and reported this development immediately,” said Tim Shenk, a Doctors Without Borders spokesman, by e-mail.
Cuomo said health authorities believe only four people had close contact with Spencer during the “relevant period” while he may have exposed others to the infection.
On Oct. 22, Spencer went to The Gutter, a bowling alley in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said. Spencer had also traveled on the A, 1 and L subway lines while he’s been in New York, officials said.
The finance and friends are healthy but under quarantine, according to Bassett. The Uber driver had no direct physical contact, she said.
Uber said it contacted health officials and were told “that neither our driver partner, nor any of his subsequent passengers are at risk,” spokeswoman Kristin Carvell said in statement. “We have communicated this to the driver, and the NYC DOHMH medical team met with the driver in person, assuring him that he is not at risk.”
The bowling alley closed “out of an abundance of caution,” Bassett said. In Spencer’s Harlem neighborhood, workers were seen handing out informational fliers about the illness.
Bassett said she considered the fever the onset of symptoms that would make the patient contagious. The fatigue, she said, could have been attributed to any number of reasons.
“He limited his contact with people,” Bassett said, although before he was showing symptoms he left his apartment and, among other things, rode the the subway trains
The Ebola diagnosis was made by the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. Samples of Spencer’s blood will be sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for confirmation, the CDC said.