SALT LAKE CITY — Primary Children's Hospital has admitted a patient who has exhibited symptoms of Ebola.
Hospital officials, however, say it is very unlikely the patient has the virus, but an emergency plan is in effect to protect other patients and staff at the hospital.
Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Utah and Primary Children's Hospital epidemiologist, said the patient had traveled to a country in Africa that does not currently have Ebola and began exhibiting symptoms at an interval after traveling that would have been consistent with how the virus develops.
"Over the next few hours, we got additional information and an alternative diagnosis became clear to us," Pavia said. "The possibility of Ebola infection is extremely remote. However, we have chosen to proceed as if it were a more higher-risk situation so that we could fully exercise and test our system in responding to a patient with a possible Ebola exposure."
Pavia would not explain what the alternative diagnosis is.
A sample was sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test for the virus, but it remained unclear when the results would confirm or negate an infection.
The patient was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday and is now in isolation. Pavia would not elaborate on other details of the patient Thursday, but he said there were several factors that initially "raised concerns for Ebola."
"It's the combination of a travel history with a certain set of symptoms," including fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhea and severe muscle cramps, he said.
Pavia added that the risk of transmission to other patients and staff in American hospitals is very low because the virus is transmitted only through close contact with bodily fluids, not through casual contact or through the air.
The virus is only transmissible after symptoms arise. If they do, U.S. medical facilities have the training and resources to handle infected patients safely, whereas health care in Africa is not as advanced, Pavia said.
Primary Children's Hospital is using the case to test its emergency protocols for screening, containing and treating patients with Ebola or other related illnesses. Throughout the summer, medical facilities in Utah have been preparing systems to handle infected patients.
"We wanted to test the system and make sure that we could carry it all the way to the end," he said. "We think what this has shown is that we're really prepared."
A man with Ebola is currently being treated in a Dallas hospital after he left Liberia on Sept. 19 and became sick four or five days later. A CDC team is monitoring several people who came in contact with the man during the time transmission was possible.
The situation there, however, is much more extreme than what is taking place at Primary Children's Hospital, according to Dr. Robert Rolfs, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health.
"The Dallas case is different in that that individual does have Ebola," Rolfs said. "We do not believe that there is a realistic possibility that this is Ebola."
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