Wayne State grad tests positive for Ebola in New York

Jonathan Lemire; and Colleen Long
Associated Press

New York – — A Doctors Without Borders physician and Wayne State University graduate who recently returned to the city after treating Ebola patients in West Africa has tested positive for the virus, city officials said late Thursday.

Craig Spencer, a 33-year-old emergency room doctor, is the fourth confirmed case in the U.S. and the first in the city.

Matt Lockwood, a spokesman for Wayne State University, said Spencer graduated from its School of Medicine in 2008.

“It doesn’t surprise us that one of our medical students was working for an organization like Doctors Without Borders in helping the under-served. A lot of our students come to Wayne State for its reputation of working with the under-served,” he said Thursday night. “Our thoughts are with him, and we wish the best for him.”

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio said there’s no reason for residents to be alarmed by the doctor’s Ebola diagnosis. He said all city officials followed “clear and strong” protocols in their handling and treatment of Spencer.

“We want to state at the outset that New Yorkers have no reason to be alarmed,” de Blasio said. “New Yorkers who have not been exposed are not at all at risk.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which will do a further test to confirm the initial results, has dispatched an Ebola response team to New York, and the city’s disease detectives have been tracing the doctor’s contacts to identify anyone who may be at risk.

Spencer returned from Guinea more than a week ago and reported Thursday coming down with a 103-degree fever and diarrhea. He was rushed to Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital, a designated Ebola center, and was being treated in a specially built isolation ward. His Harlem apartment was cordoned off, and his fiance, who was not showing symptoms, was being watched in a quarantine ward at Bellevue.

City officials say Spencer acknowledged riding the subway and taking a cab to a Brooklyn bowling alley in the past week before he started showing symptoms.

Listed online as an assistant clinical professor of medicine at Columbia-affiliated New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Spencer has visited both India and Africa in his medical travels, according to Patrick Crossman, who said he has known Spencer for seven years.

“He’s been overseas I don’t know how many times,” said Crossman, the co-founder of Glishen, an Internet meeting spot for English teachers who want to teach abroad. “Every time I talk to him he’s on another mission in another country. I believe he was training doctors in India, and he’s been to Africa multiple times.”

For his age, Crossman said, “he’s really already dealt with a lot medically.”

Spencer didn’t fear the risk he was taking by practicing medicine in poor and often dangerous settings, according to Crossman, who said that while he didn’t know that Spencer was in West Africa treating Ebola patients, it didn’t surprise him.

Before going to West Africa, Spencer worked on multiple medical projects in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a description on the website of New York- Presbyterian Hospital’s emergency medicine department. They included developing an emergency care teaching course in Rwanda and assisting with a pregnancy monitoring program in Burundi.

According to a rough timeline provided by city officials, the doctor’s symptoms developed Wednesday, prompting him to isolate himself in his apartment. When he felt worse Thursday, he and his fiance made a joint call to authorities to detail his symptoms and his travels.

EMTs in full Ebola gear arrived and took him to Bellevue in an ambulance surrounded by police squad cars.

Health officials say the chances of the average New Yorker contracting Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, are slim. Someone can’t be infected just by being near someone who’s sick with Ebola. Someone isn’t contagious unless he is sick. Symptoms are similar to malaria and cholera.

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.

Ebola update

■Billionaire Paul Allen says he’ll contribute at least $100 million to the fight against Ebola.

■The European Union on Thursday came up with another 2$31 million to fight Ebola, as the bloc’s leaders pressed to create a $1.26 billion fund to fight the deadly virus.

■The Dallas hospital where a man diagnosed with Ebola died and two nurses were infected with the virus has seen patients flee the hospital, with a more than 50 percent decline in visits to its emergency room since the crisis began.