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Maricopa County isolated patients after they feared initial suspicion of Ebola

PHOENIX — Two people who may have traveled to Africa and displayed potential symptoms of Ebola were isolated in Maricopa County last weekend, health officials said.

Under extreme precaution the two patients were placed in isolation at the Maricopa Integrated Health System after they both self-reported their symptoms. After being monitored and tested they were both cleared of the deadly Ebola virus.

“We had a couple of cases in the past that have been isolated who might meet the initial suspicion for the possibility of Ebola,” Dr. Robert Fromm, Maricopa Integrated Health System’s chief medical director, said Friday.

The system errs on the side of caution when it comes to isolating patients displaying symptoms of possible infectious diseases and it is a routine practice.

According to Fromm, the biggest concern was the patients’ recent travel history.

“The most important characteristic is one in which an individual has had travel or contact with somebody in an endemic area,” he said.

One of the patients from last weekend had reported traveling throughout Africa, though there was no indication that the claim was true. The other had recently returned from Nigeria — a country that has not had an outbreak of the deadly disease.

Fromm explained the symptoms doctors look for when a case of the virus is feared.

“So this constellation of symptoms that lead to a consideration for Ebola include high fever, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and bleeding,” Fromm said. “Those are things that are typically seen. It’s one of the viral hemorrhagic fevers.”

Both patients went through the aforementioned screening while in isolation and were cleared.

In a statement, Maricopa Integrated Health System staff reported they are prepared to deal with any more suspected cases of Ebola in the Valley.

“The screening criteria we have in place worked perfectly,” said MIHS Infection Control Coordinator Dorinne Gray. “These screening criteria are designed to err on the side of caution. We appreciate the excellent work of our clinical staff in their focus on keeping our patients and visitors safe. We also appreciate the partnership of County and State Health Officials.”

Fromm said the hospital worked with Maricopa County Health officials while dealing with the two suspected cases last weekend.

Thomas Eric Duncan, the first-ever person to be diagnosed with the virus in the United States, died Wednesday at a hospital in Dallas. His half-brother, Phoenix resident Wilfred Smallwood, said Duncan was not displaying symptoms when he left Liberia to visit family in America.

Smallwood said Duncan was saving to visit Phoenix in the near future.

Earlier this week, Cara Christ, the Arizona Department of Health Services’ chief medical officer, said the chance of an Ebola outbreak in Arizona is unlikely.

“Ebola is not spread that easily,” she said, adding it’s much more difficult for Ebola to be passed from one person to another than it is for most diseases.

“It’s not like flu, where flu is highly contagious,” she said. “When you touch a door, even before you’re sick or you know that you’re sick, you’re contagious.”

Also, Christ said modern medicine and sanitation procedures make it very unlikely that the United States will see widespread infections.

“With appropriate hand washing (and) infection control protocols, this is a virus that is going to be very easily contained,” she said.