State lab testing for possible Ebola in King County resident; Early symptoms consistent with common cold, Ebola thought to be unlikely

The Washington State Department of Health, Public Health laboratory is testing a sample from a King County resident who developed a fever today while under monitoring after traveling from Mali. The patient also has a sore throat but none of the other typical symptoms to suggest Ebola infection. Because fever can be an early indicator of Ebola infection, as a precaution, Public Health has requested that the traveler be evaluated at Harborview Medical Center where the traveler was immediately isolated and Ebola precautions are in place.

The person had been under active monitoring from Public Health – Seattle & King County after arriving late on December 3rd from Mali. The patient is being monitored in isolation and is in satisfactory condition while waiting for the test results. Initial results are expected within the next twelve hours.

“As this is cold and flu season, the mild symptoms that this individual is experiencing is most likely something other than Ebola, and the vast majority of similar cases among travelers evaluated for Ebola to-date in the U.S. have not been related to Ebola.” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Chief of Communicable Disease at Public Health –Seattle & King County. “The likelihood that this person has Ebola is low, and we will have more information over the next few days based on how the illness progresses and results of any testing that is indicated.”

Staff of the Washington State Laboratories will begin testing this afternoon. The preliminary results will not be available for approximately 12 hours once the specimen arrives at the labs.

Public health officials further noted that the level of virus in the earliest stages of Ebola is so low that tests may not be able to pick up Ebola for two or three days. The low level of virus in the earliest stages also means that people in the earliest stages of Ebola infection are also much less contagious than those in the later stages.

Public Health – Seattle & King County and the Washington State Department of Health have done extensive planning with Harborview Medical Center to make sure they have the systems and resources in place to safely manage patients with possible Ebola infection.

In the event that the test results find that the individual has Ebola, health officials have taken steps to minimize the risk for possible spread to others by identifying all contacts of this individual. No contacts have been identified outside the traveler’s household since the onset of fever. Someone with Ebola cannot transmit the virus unless they are showing symptoms.

The hospital has implemented their Ebola response plan. Although it has not yet been determined whether or not the patient has an Ebola infection, as a precaution, the plan specifies that the hospital minimize the number of health care workers who have contact with the patient and that staff use appropriate protective gear. Plans also call for careful monitoring by safety officers to ensure that all infection control procedures are strictly followed.

Public health officials will notify the public about the results of the laboratory tests for Ebola virus when they are available.

The World Health Organization has reported 8 cases of Ebola in Mali related to the current outbreak in West Africa, including 6 deaths. Of these cases, one was a probable but unconfirmed case of Ebola.

For more information and frequent updates, go to kingcounty.gov/health/ebola or doh.wa.gov or follow us on Twitter @KCPubHealth.