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Ohio Scrambles To Address Visit From Ebola-Infected Nurse

Ebola virus particles.
Flickr/Creative Commons

Ebola became a major health concern in northeast Ohio Wednesday after it was discovered that a nurse who traveled to northeast Ohio has the deadly virus. Health officials in the region are working to retrace her steps while trying to balance caution and reassurance.

Just about every press conference Wednesday – and there were a half dozen of them – began with the reassurance that no Ohio resident is known to be showing symptoms of ebola, and that ebola is not communicable or contagious unless the patient exhibits symptoms. But just about every press conference also included an acknowledgement of what is not known. In fact, most officials refused to even confirm the name of the nurse.

Former school officials, neighbors and extended family did confirm the identity of Amber Joy Vinson, a 29-year-old who returned to the Akron area over the weekend to see family and plan a wedding. She was a member of the National Honor Society who graduated from Firestone High School in 2003 and earned her nursing degrees in 2006 and 2008 at Kent State.

Firestone English teacher Judith Whites says Vincent was someone likely to pick nursing.

“The students who usually are willing to help other students, which she certainly was or seem very concerned when another student has a problem—all of the qualities that a nurse obviously has or they wouldn’t go into the profession basically qualities I can see in my mind. She was always there for them,” said Whites.

One of those Vinson cared for in the last month was Thomas Eric Duncan. AP is reporting she was one of the people at the hospital in Dallas who drew the Liberian man’s blood and inserted catheters—and was with him on Sept. 30, when he tested positive for Ebola. He died eight days later. Health officials believe that’s how she and another nurse contracted the disease.

But Vinson didn’t know it when she flew from Cleveland Hopkins airport back to Dallas on a Frontier Airlines flight Monday night. Her symptoms didn’t emerge until Tuesday and none of the passengers were exposed to her bodily fluids, which is a must for the virus to spread. Still, the CDC is interviewing her fellow passengers. And Director Thomas Frieden says the agency is tightening guidelines for such travel.

“We will from this moment forward ensure that no other individual who is being monitored for exposure undergoes travel in any way other than controlled movement,” he said Wednesday.

It’s where Vinson moved during her three days in Northeast Ohio that is the subject now of the most intense investigation here. Two employees of the Summit County Health Department, with more than 50 years combined experience, are piecing together a timeline. That includes interviews at the house in Tallmadge where Vinson stayed.

Dr. Marguerite Erme, the department’s medical director, says the process will take time.

“If I were to ask any of you what you did a week ago, hour-by-hour, you probably would not remember if I asked you right now,” Erme said. “But you might remember a little bit more tomorrow, a little bit more the day after. To get a full time-line, I think it’s going to take multiple interviews because we’re human beings.”

Vinson visited with three relatives who work on Kent State’s campus, but was not on the campus this weekend herself. Kent’s head of health services, Dr. Angela DeJulius, says none of the three shows any symptoms of Ebola.

“We’re going above and beyond the CDC’s recommendation in asking those three employees to stay at home away from campus for the 21-day period of self-monitoring per the CDC’s protocols,” DeJulius said. “I feel that those precautions put us in a situation where there’s very low risk to anyone on our campus.”

Meanwhile, police are keeping reporters away from the house in Tallmadge, which is under a self-quarantine. Cleveland officials say they’ve decontaminated the plane and other areas of the airport and are coordinating with area hospitals.

To try to keep people from panicking, the Cleveland Clinic has set up a special intranet site for employees on ebola. Kent state has set up a hotline for parents. The CDC has set one up for airline passengers, and Summit County plans to hold at least two press conferences Thursday to keep people apprised.