'Abundance of caution' prompts isolation for UNMH patient with Ebola-like symptoms

Created: 08/17/2014 9:50 PM
By: Caleb James, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Health officials continue to monitor a Bernalillo County woman showing symptoms similar to the Ebola virus.

The woman was traveling in the West African nation of Sierra Leone at the beginning of the month.    

She then returned to Albuquerque and soon after began to develop symptoms on Friday. She was admitted to UNM Hospital on Saturday.

The patient is currently undergoing a series of tests and remains in isolation at the hospital -- blood samples will go to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Health officials say this is not a highly probable case of the virus, but because of the symptoms -- and her recent return from West Africa -- there's no room for guesses.

"Because she does have some of these generalized signs and symptoms, we want to be unduly cautious," said New Mexico Department of Health deputy epidemiologist Joan Baumbach. "I honestly believe that the public is not at risk -- that we're taking every precaution necessary and anything we learn of any concern to the public, we will be relaying immediately."

On August 4, Baumbach says a Bernalillo County woman returned from Sierra Leone -- a county rocked by an Ebola outbreak.

On Saturday that woman checked herself into UNM Hospital with flu-like symptoms. Officials say she's in isolation, with hospital staff following strict guidelines.

"They wear gowns, gloves, face masks, in addition to eye protection," said UNM Hospital epidemiologist Meghan Brett.   

Brett says extreme caution is being taken.

CDC and state health officials say the patient's symptoms do not rise to what would be considered a "probable" case of the virus -- but some of Ebola's most basic symptoms are there.

"She's absolutely being managed as if she might," said Baumbach. 

Baumbach says the woman does not believe she was in contact with anyone who has the virus -- and transmission is difficult.

"People really need to have those bodily fluids enter their own bodies directly, through touching it or by other means of very direct contact," she said.

Blood samples from the woman are being collected and will be shipped to the CDC in Atlanta.

"We'll probably have some preliminary results back by the end of the week," she said. 

Until then, the patient will remain at UNM Hospital.

According to the NM Dept. of Health, none of the woman's contacts here in New Mexico are being tested for the virus at this time, though officials are in contact with her family.

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