Health & Family

Patient traveling from Africa prompts Ebola scare at CMC

When they realized one of their patients had recently traveled in Africa, doctors at Carolinas Medical Center’s emergency department took precautions early Wednesday to prevent possible spread of an infectious disease.

They roped off a portion of the ER and placed the patient in isolation for about seven hours, leading to rumors, both inside and outside the hospital, that Ebola might be the cause of the patient’s fever.

But by mid-morning doctors and public health officials had ruled out the risk of Ebola, which has been prominent in the news because of the outbreak in west Africa, where a Charlotte missionary is being treated for the deadly infection.

“We acted out of an abundance of caution,” said Dr. Katie Passaretti, medical director for infection prevention at Carolinas HealthCare System. She said a corridor in the emergency department was closed for about seven hours, and the patient was isolated until doctors concluded there was no public threat.

The patient arrived in the ER about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday but didn’t disclose his travel history until about 3 a.m., Passaretti said. After consulting with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Passaretti said CMC doctors concluded there was no need to test the patient for the Ebola virus.

Passaretti and Mecklenburg County Health Director Dr. Marcus Plescia said the response was part of the normal process for reporting infectious disease threats and protecting staff, patients and the public. Plescia said hospital officials alerted the health department’s medical director in the middle of the night.

In the course of the night, Plescia said, the patient tested positive for malaria, a mosquito-borne disease that also causes fever but is not transmitted person to person. Passaretti declined to confirm that diagnosis, citing privacy reasons, but she said the patient was discharged after testing positive for another disease.

The emergency department remained open throughout, Passaretti said. But roping off even a section of the ER prompted a flurry of panic Wednesday morning when it was reported on TV websites and Twitter that a “patient was being tested.” Rumors circulated, even inside CMC, that the precautions might be related to Ebola.

State health officials also issued a statement Wednesday saying “the patient’s illness and epidemiologic information are NOT consistent with Ebola infection.”