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What we know about the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the US

 Members of the Cleaning Guys Haz Mat clean up company sanitizing the apartment where Ebola patient Thomas Duncan was staying before being admitted to a hospital in Dallas, Texas.
Members of the Cleaning Guys Haz Mat clean up company sanitizing the apartment where Ebola patient Thomas Duncan was staying before being admitted to a hospital in Dallas, Texas.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first-ever case of Ebola diagnosed in America on September 30. On the morning of October 8, he died.

The patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, came from Liberia and had remained in isolation at a hospital in Dallas, Texas for over a week. The CDC is currently tracing all of his contacts in an attempt to isolate the disease.

As of October 7, there have been no other cases of Ebola diagnosed in the United States — although there have been about a dozen false alarms. Here's what we know and don't know about Ebola in the US.

What we know

How this Ebola outbreak became the worst we've ever seen

The first person in the US diagnosed with Ebola

— The patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, left Liberia on a commercial flight on September 19. He was screened for a fever on departure, and didn't have one, which means he wasn't infectious. He flew through Belgium and DC, and arrived in Dallas on September 20.

Days before his trip, Duncan probably contracted the virus from his landlord's daughter, when he helped bring the girl to the hospital. She later died from Ebola.

— Duncan came to the United States to visit his girlfriend and family.

— Around September 24,
he started to feel ill, which means he would have been infectious. His girlfriend brought him to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital to seek care.

Initial missteps by health officials

He was first diagnosed with a "low grade, common viral infection" and sent home with an antibiotic.

The patient's sister said that Duncan told a nurse that he had come from Liberia. This vital information "was not fully communicated throughout the full team," said Mark C. Lester, executive vice president of the health-care system that includes Texas Health Presbyterian. Ebola was not suspected.

By September 28, Duncan had fallen gravely ill. He was sent to Texas Presbyterian in an ambulance. He was running a high fever and vomiting.

— This time, hospital staff suspected Ebola and
the patient was placed in an isolation unit. On September 30, the CDC confirmed that he has Ebola. He remained in intensive care and isolation, where his condition worsened from serious to critical and he had been "fighting for his life," according to the CDC director Tom Frieden.  Duncan had been on dialysis and a respirator.

— The hospital reported that Duncan had used an experimental treatment brincidofovir, made by the biopharmaceutical company Chimerix, approved on an emergency basis by the Food and Drug Administration.

— He died on October 8. His body will be wrapped in multiple, leak-proof bags, disinfected, and cremated per CDC protocol.

How the CDC is trying to prevent Ebola from spreading

— The CDC says it has identified the people who have come into contact with the patient while he could have been infectious. Officials said 38 potential contacts are now being followed daily to see if they develop symptoms, and about ten definite contacts are being followed.

— These people will be tracked for 21 days, their temperatures checked twice each day.

— The high-risk individuals include health professionals who cared for Duncan, and the girlfriend and family Duncan was staying with in Dallas.

— The four people who shared an apartment with Duncan (his girlfriend and three others) have been under a strict quarantine and moved to a home in the Dallas suburbs, after it took officials four days to start cleaning the potentially Ebola-contaminated apartment in which they were initially quarantined.

— So far no one the CDC is tracking has fallen ill.

— America does not intend to close its borders to visitors from Ebola-stricken West African countries, though the Department of Homeland Security announced that they would begin screening flight passengers coming in from West Africa for signs of infection. For more on Ebola and airport screening, see here.

Ebola hasn't spread in the US

— The CDC has tested about 15 other individuals in the US for Ebola this year and all have tested negative so far, except for Duncan. Since the announcement of the Dallas patient, however, fear and awareness are heightened and the CDC reported that, while they received 50 calls or e-mails prior to Duncan's case, that number has risen to 800 calls or e-mails per day.

— There have been other Americans who have come down with Ebola in Africa and returned to the US for treatment. Most recently, Nebraska Medical Center took in Ashoka Mukpo, a freelance NBC cameraman who got Ebola in Liberia. All have survived so far.

Ebola is a bigger problem in Africa than the United States

— This Ebola outbreak is by far the largest on record, killing more people and spreading to more countries than all previous Ebola outbreaks combined. The virus has made it to Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal (a separate outbreak has also occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

— Ebola has killed more than 3,400 people this year and there have been more than 7,400 cases.

— Ebola is a difficult virus to transmit and is only transferred through direct contact with bodily fluids, such as vomit, sweat and blood. It cannot go airborne which makes it usually containable by sophisticated health care systems.

— The Ebola outbreaks are concentrated in low-income countries with incredibly weak health care infrastructures. The United States has a health care infrastructure that would likely prevent the large, Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa.

— There is currently no Ebola cure, although doctors have tried different treatments during this outbreak that have varying levels of research behind them.

How to learn more

— This is what Ebola feels like.

— 16 things you need to know about Ebola.

— The man who discovered Ebola explains why this outbreak spiraled out of control.

— Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden says the outbreak will get worse before it gets better.

— This explains exactly how you can — and can't — get Ebola.

— Most public health experts think it would be very difficult for an Ebola outbreak to happen in the United States because of our strong health infrastructure.

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