Concerns, questions as Dallas becomes 'ground zero' for Ebola in US

A health worker in protective suit carries equipment on Oct 1, 2014 at MSF's (Doctors Without Borders) Ebola treatment center in Monrovia. -- PHOTO: AFP
A health worker in protective suit carries equipment on Oct 1, 2014 at MSF's (Doctors Without Borders) Ebola treatment center in Monrovia. -- PHOTO: AFP

DALLAS (REUTERS) - The first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States - a man being treated in a Dallas hospital - has sparked worries that the virus that has killed thousands in West Africa could spread in one of the country's largest metropolitan regions.

But there is also a sense of confidence in a city that often brims with bravado and has some of the top hospitals in the country, as well as a public health system that has managed incidents such as a major outbreak of West Nile virus.

"Time for panic? Absolutely not," the Dallas Morning News said in an editorial on Wednesday, echoing many in the fourth-largest U.S. urban area, home to nearly 7 million people. "We would not wish this deadly virus on any country but no nation in the world is better equipped to respond faster and with greater medical expertise than ours," it said.

That expertise should help prevent an outbreak of the disease, which has killed more than 3,000 people in West Africa, the newspaper said. The arrival of Ebola in Texas set off a flood of conversation among Dallas residents about being at ground zero for the disease's emergence in the United States.

"I have full faith in the public health system but we are humans and make mistakes and making a mistake in this case could lead to a lot of fatalities," said BreeAnna Moore, 27, who lives in a Dallas suburb and now has second thoughts about travelling into the city.

Airports, bus areas and other places where masses of people move were operating normally on Wednesday but there was a concern shared among many about how the disease is spread. A few drug stores in Dallas said purchases of hand cleansers appeared to be up while the Texas Department of State Health Services posted information on how to spot and avoid the disease.

The Ebola patient had recently flown to Texas from Liberia and state officials said they were trying to find all the people he had come into contact with for about a week before he was admitted to the hospital. Public school officials said the man may have had contact with five students in Dallas but the state's health department said so far, there are no other suspected cases.

At Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where the patient is in serious condition, officials have tried to reassure the public that he is isolated and not a threat to other patients. But a revelation that the hospital had turned away the patient two days before being admitted on Sunday has caused some people to wonder if others could be infected.

Visitors still come by to see friends and families at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, which is considered one of the better medical facilities in the city. Most take medical officials at their word on safety but there is still concern.

"I don't see people running around in Hazmat suits so I guess I'm OK," Tom DeLancy, 54, said as he drank a cup of coffee in the hospital lobby after visiting his niece who is recovering from minor surgery.

Erika Rodriguez, 23, said the American public should have been bracing for something like this. "It's just sad that no one cared about Ebola when it was in Africa but now everyone's eyes are open because it's here," she said