NYC doctor tested for Ebola; girlfriend quarantined

A doctor who recently treated Ebola patients in West Africa is being tested for the deadly virus at a New York City hospital, where he was taken Thursday with a 103-degree fever and gastrointestinal symptoms.

City health officials also "immediately began to actively trace all of the patient's contacts to identify anyone who may be at potential risk," the NYC health department said. The girlfriend of the physician, identified as Dr. Craig Spencer, was placed in quarantine, but she is healthy, the health department said.

Spencer, 33, was transported from his apartment in the Hamilton Heights section of upper Manhattan to Bellevue Hospital by a specially trained unit of emergency medical service workers wearing hazardous material protective gear, according to the health department.

The department did not identify Spencer by name. His identity was confirmed by NBC News.

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Preliminary test results on Spencer are expected to be available by early Tuesday morning. The federal Centers for Disease Control is preparing to send an Ebola-response team to New York City, according to a CDC official. The agency already has some Ebola experts in New York.

The city health department also said the Spencer is being evaluated for other potential causes of his symptoms, such as salmonella, malaria or stomach flu.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said officials believe "very few" people had contact with Spencer since he returned from Africa last week.

Spencer is a fellow of international emergency medicine and on the staff of Columbia University-New York Presbyterian Hospital.

In a statement, New York Presbyterian said, "He has not been to work at our hospital and has not seen any patients at our hospital since his return from overseas."

The hospital system called Spencer a "dedicated humanitarian . . . who went to an area of medical crisis to help a desperately underserved population. He is a committed and responsible physician who always puts his patients first.

"Our thoughts are with him, and we wish him all the best at this time."

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Spencer had recently worked with the international aid group Doctors Without Borders in the West African nation of Guinea, which with Sierra Leone and Liberia are the epicenter of an Ebola outbreak that has so far killed nearly 5,000 people. The nation of Mali recorded its first confirmed case Thursday.

NBC 4 New York reported that Spencer had flown back to New York's JFK International Airport from Guinea last Friday. His Facebook page, which has since been taken down, had shown a photo of him posing while wearing body-covering protective gear in Brussels, Belgium, whose airport is a hub for travel to West Africa.

Dr. Craig Spencer (L), and wearing protective gear while treating ebola patients in West Africa (R), was taken to Bellevue Hospital with ebola symptoms for further testing.
Source: Linkedin (L) | Facebook (R)
Dr. Craig Spencer (L), and wearing protective gear while treating ebola patients in West Africa (R), was taken to Bellevue Hospital with ebola symptoms for further testing.

Doctors Without Borders said he had been regularly monitoring his temperature since returning to the U.S., as recommended. Spencer notified the group Thursday morning that he had developed a fever, according to the group.

Doctors Without Borders then immediately notified the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, which is directly managing the individual's care," the group said.

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A source in the New York City Fire Department said a call about Spencer was received just before noon Thursday. An operator "triaged" the doctor over the phone, and determined that an EMS team with hazardous material suits were needed, the source said..

The city health department in a statement posted on its website, said, "After consulting with the hospital and the CDC, [the health department] has decided to conduct a test for the Ebola virus because of this patient's recent travel history, pattern of symptoms, and past work."

"New York City is taking all necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of all New Yorkers," the department said.

"As a further precaution, beginning today, the Health Department's team of disease detectives immediately began to actively trace all of the patient's contacts to identify anyone who may be at potential risk. The Health Department staff has established protocols to identify, notify, and, if necessary, quarantine any contacts of Ebola cases."

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Bellevue Hospital recently was designated to be the center for the isolation, identification and treatment of potential Ebola patients in the city. Bellevue is the nation's oldest public hospital.

Bellevue Hospital in New York
Getty Images
Bellevue Hospital in New York

Only three people so far have ever been diagnosed within the United States. The first, Thomas Eric Duncan, died Oct. 8 in a Dallas hospital after having contracted the disease in his native Liberia before traveling to visit relatives in Texas.

Two nurses who had treated Duncan at a Dallas hospital, Nina Pham and Amber Joy Vinson, contracted Ebola from him, and were diagnosed with the virus last week. Pham is being treated at the National Institutes of Health, just outside Washington, where she is in good condition.

Vinson is being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, which has recently treated three other Ebola patients, all of whom have survived and been discharged. Vinson's family announced Wednesday that recent tests had shown her to be now free of the virus.