Ebola did not have to kill Thomas Eric Duncan

On September 20 at 7:01 pm CDT, Ebola landed in the United States, at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. Thomas Eric Duncan, aware that he had been in direct contact with the virus, embarked on a journey that included boarding three planes in order to arrive at Dallas.  In Monrovia, four days before his departure, Duncan helped transport one of his neighbors, who was critically infected by the virus, to a local hospital. Despite the probability that he traveled to the US infected with Ebola, the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital could have done more to save Ducan’s life. Duncan first sought medical care five days after his arrival, on September 25, at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital ER, reporting that he was showing symptoms of Ebola. He had a fever, abdominal pain, a headache and decreased urination. He also informed his caretakers that he had recently arrived from Liberia. Evidently, this Biosafety_level_4_hazmat_suitparticular information was not properly communicated to higher officials within the hospital since Mr. Duncan was dismissed shortly after as a case of a common virus, which was to be addressed by a few prescription antibiotics.

On September 28th, Duncan was on his way to the hospital in an ambulance after having developed more symptoms common to the virus - diarrhea and vomiting. This did not raise enough suspicion about his possible Ebola infection since he waited three hours in the waiting room until he was isolated.

Two days after, he was finally tested for Ebola and the results showed the heavy presence of the virus. Although requested by the hospital, Duncan was not administered ZMapp, the drug-cocktail that was previously used to cure the first two American Ebola-patients.

On October 7, hospital authorities said his condition was improving. At 7:51 am on October 8, the patient passed away leaving behind a great deal of controversy regarding the treatment he received and the hospital’s inefficiency to detect, control and react to his sickness in a timely manner.

Duncan’s family members, as well as religious leaders of his family’s community in Dallas, have profoundly expressed their criticism and disturbance regarding Thomas Eric’s overall treatment. Specifically, his nephew questioned whether the hospital discriminated against Duncan for not having health insurance or for his race. He inquired if this discrimination might have been the reason he was not treated with ZMapp, and critiqued the lack of communication the hospital had with the patient’s family, including himself. Furthermore, Duncan’s relatives have condemned the press’ assumption that Mr. Duncan knew he was infected and that he just came to the United States to receive better treatment, ignoring the risk he could pose to the rest of his family or to the American people.

There are important mistakes committed by the hospital’s staff and questions to be raised about this issue. First, It remains unknown whether Thomas Eric Duncan could have been saved if he had been isolated when he went to the hospital for the first time on September 25. However, the supposed ignorance of the hospital authorities about Duncan’s recent arrival from Liberia, demonstrates a major problem - it is part of the Ebola protocol to not ignore historical travel information, since it could be a determinant for a case that presented Duncan’s symptoms.

Secondly, it is important to delve into the reason for which Duncan was not given proper treatment. Relatives of the Liberian national have strongly suggested that it was due to Duncan’s lack of health insurance or because of his race. This possibly reveals an underlying problem of the American public health system; one that must be thoroughly reviewed and viewed as unacceptable for future cases, since a treatment with ZMapp or other tested treatments for the disease could have reduced Mr. Duncan’s chances of passing away.

Although the reasons for Thomas Eric Duncan travel to the US may be disputed, whether for medical treatment for the Ebola virus or simply to visit his relatives, more could have been done to avoid his death. For its lack of effective and active management of the case, the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital could be appropriately accused of passively causing Duncan’s rapid death; Ebola did not have to kill Thomas Eric Duncan.