Boy observed in New York hospital for Ebola; US states firm on quarantines

A 5-year-old boy who arrived from Guinea was being observed in isolation at Bellevue Hospital in New York City (pictured) for possible Ebola symptoms, according to media reports Monday. -- PHOTO: AFP
A 5-year-old boy who arrived from Guinea was being observed in isolation at Bellevue Hospital in New York City (pictured) for possible Ebola symptoms, according to media reports Monday. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A 5-year-old boy who arrived from Guinea was being observed in isolation at Bellevue Hospital in New York City for possible Ebola symptoms, according to media reports Monday, as New York and New Jersey stuck to new plans to quarantine health workers returning from countries hardest hit by the virus.

The boy, who arrived in the United States on Saturday, had a 103 degree Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius) fever, ABC News reported. He has not been tested for the virus and was not under quarantine, ABC said, citing New York City health department officials.

The New York Post said the boy had been vomiting and was taken from his home in the Bronx by emergency medical workers.

Four people have been diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. The first diagnosis, a Liberian visitor to Texas in September who died, was riddled with missteps. Two nurses who treated the man contracted the disease but have recovered.

The missteps and delays in diagnosis of the Liberian man prompted some states to impose or consider restrictions on travellers coming from the West African countries where the virus has killed nearly 5,000 people.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo struck a more conciliatory tone on Sunday about the new quarantine policy after the White House said that mandatory isolation could impede the Ebola fight, while an attorney for a nurse who has been quarantined in New Jersey since returning from West Africa said she planned to sue.

Responding to concerns that mandatory quarantine would inhibit doctors and nurses from traveling to West Africa, Cuomo said New York wanted to encourage personnel to go, lauding their "valour" and "compassion," while also protecting public safety at home.

Healthcare workers and travellers exposed to people with Ebola and who live in New York may stay in their homes for the 21-day quarantine and be checked upon twice daily by healthcare professionals, Cuomo said, adding the state would provide financial assistance if needed.

The White House had voiced its concern to the governors of New York and New Jersey about the potential impact of quarantine orders, a senior administration official said. "We have let the governors of New York, New Jersey, and other states know that we have concerns with the unintended consequences of policies not grounded in science may have on efforts to combat Ebola at its source in West Africa," the Obama administration official said in a statement.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie first announced the quarantine policy on Friday, reiterating late Sunday that the terms had not changed.

A New Jersey resident who had contact with someone with Ebola would be quarantined at home. Non-residents would be transported home if feasible or quarantined in New Jersey. "These people are extraordinary for their valour and their courage and their compassion," Cuomo said. "Anything we can do to encourage it, we want to do." He added that New York was not changing the policy announced on Friday.

Christie sounded less placating than Cuomo in remarks he made about the quarantined nurse, who went public to speak about hours of questioning at Newark Liberty International Airport and her transfer to a hospital isolation tent.

Nurse Kaci Hickox, the first health worker isolated under the rules, was placed in 21-day quarantine in a New Jersey hospital after returning from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. She will fight her quarantine in court, her attorney said on Sunday, arguing the order violates her constitutional rights.

New Jersey, New York and Illinois are imposing quarantines on anyone arriving with a high risk of having contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. "I understand that this has made this woman uncomfortable, and I'm sorry," Christie told reporters. "I have the people in New Jersey as my first and foremost responsibility to protect."

Medical professionals note that Ebola is extremely difficult to catch, and is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person and not transmitted by asymptomatic people.

Angry over her confinement, Hickox, a Texas native, planned to file a federal lawsuit this week, her attorney said. She remains asymptomatic and has not tested positive for Ebola, prominent civil liberties lawyer Norman Siegel said.

The new rules were imposed a day after a New York doctor, Craig Spencer, was diagnosed with Ebola after he returned from treating patients in Guinea. Spencer moved freely around the city before he had symptoms that would make him contagious.

Now hospitalised in isolation, he appeared slightly improved but remained in serious but stable condition on Sunday.

Spencer and Hickox worked with Doctors Without Borders, a charity closely involved in the fight against the epidemic.