DALLAS — A hazardous-materials crew on Friday decontaminated the Texas apartment where an Ebola patient stayed, while public-health officials cut by half the number of people being monitored for any symptoms of the deadly disease.
The decontamination team was to collect bed sheets, towels and a mattress used by the infected man before he was hospitalized, as well as a suitcase and other personal items belonging to Thomas Eric Duncan, officials said.
They planned to place the items in industrial barrels and take them to a storage facility, according to Dallas County Fire Marshal Robert De Los Santos.
Once the proper permits are issued, the materials were to be hauled away for permanent disposal, probably by incineration at a landfill.
The first Ebola diagnosis in the U.S. has raised concerns about whether the disease that has killed 3,400 people in West Africa could spread in the U.S. Federal health officials say they are confident they can keep it in check.
Elsewhere, NBC News reported that an American freelance cameraman working for the network in Liberia has tested positive for the virus and will be flown back to the United States, along with the rest of the news crew.
Members of the Cleaning Guys of Fort Worth pulled into the Dallas apartment complex Friday with a 36-foot trailer hauling safety equipment, respirators and decontamination materials.
When the job is complete, even the crew’s protective suits were to be burned, said Tamara Smith, the company’s office manager.
The family living in the apartment has been confined to their home under armed guard while public-health officials monitor them — part of an intense effort to contain the deadly disease before it can get a foothold in the United States.
Louise Troh, originally from Liberia, shares the apartment with her 13-year-old son and two nephews.
Judge Clay Jenkins, Dallas County’s top administrative official, said he went to the apartment with two epidemiologists to apologize for the delay in removing the soiled items, which happened five days after Duncan was admitted to the hospital. He said officials are working to make sure the family is comfortable and to improve their accommodations.
“I am concerned for this family,” he said. “I want to see this family treated the way I would want to see my own family treated.”
The confinement order, which also bans visitors, was imposed after the family failed to comply with a request to stay home.
Also Friday, Texas health officials said they had narrowed the number of people they were monitoring from as many as 100 to about 50 who had some type of exposure to Duncan.
Texas Health Commissioner David Lakey said all 50 are meeting with health workers and having their temperatures taken daily. So far, none shows symptoms of the virus. Ten are considered to be at higher risk and are being monitored more closely.
The virus that causes Ebola is not airborne and can only be spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids — blood, sweat, vomit, feces, urine, saliva or semen — of an infected person who is showing symptoms. Those fluids must also have an entry point.
For example, people might get infected by handling soiled clothing or bed sheets and then touching their mouth, or if they are not wearing gloves while doing those tasks and have a cut on their hand.
CDC Director Tom Frieden dismissed suggestions that people travelling from West Africa should not be allowed into the U.S.
“The fact is that if we tried to seal the border, it would not work because people are allowed to travel,” he said Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Blocking travel, he said, “would backfire because it would make it harder to stop the outbreak.”
Duncan arrived in Dallas on Sept. 20 and fell ill a few days later. After an initial visit to the emergency room at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, he was sent home, even though he told a nurse he had been in West Africa.
He returned to the hospital two days later, on Sunday, and has been kept in isolation ever since. He’s listed in serious but stable condition.