The CDC's Ebola Swat Team Arrives in New York City

A second team of federal disease fighters is flying into New York today to consult on the city’s first Ebola patient, aiming to help local health officials avoid missteps that led to two infections in Dallas.

The newest group from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes four epidemiologists and infection control specialists, according to CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds. They will join a trio of Ebola experts who arrived in New York late last night after Craig Spencer, a New York doctor, tested positive for the virus, according to Reynolds. The group, working partly out of an emergency operations center in Queens, could swell even more in coming days as health workers track anyone who could have come into contact with Spencer, or who may become infected in the effort to save his life, said Dave Daigle, a member of the original team.

The initial team found “a great set-up” in New York, Daigle, a communications specialist, said in a telephone interview. “We were very impressed.”

Spencer arrived in the U.S. on Oct. 17 at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport after working to treat Ebola patients in Guinea for the international aid group Doctors Without Borders. In the West Africa region, the virus has infected more than 10,000 people, killing about half, according to the World Health Organization.

Spencer’s Movements

Spencer didn’t confine himself to his Harlem home after arriving in New York, and the apartment has been decontaminated and sealed since his infection was made public. Before being placed in isolation at Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan, he visited a Brooklyn bowling alley, a meatball restaurant and a coffee shop, according to the city health department. He also traveled on public transit and used a car service.

Daigle has experience chasing after people who have had contact with an Ebola patient, He recently returned from a three-week stint in Dallas, where Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan became the first man diagnosed with the virus in the U.S., dying Oct. 8. Duncan infected two nurses, now free of the virus, and New York health officials are cautious to avoid another incident.

The CDC team, which includes two of their most senior infectious disease experts, was called in at the request of the city, Reynolds said.

“We have an advantage in watching what happened in Dallas,” Governor Andrew Cuomo told a crowd of more than 5,000 health-care workers at an Ebola training session earlier this week. “Dallas didn’t have a chance to prepare the way we have a chance to prepare.”

Simple Tools

The tools of the CDC Ebola team are simple. They’re armed with thermometers, gloves, BlackBerry mobile telephones and little else, Daigle said in an earlier interview. “It’s a shoe-leather job,” he said.

It’s unclear how the two Dallas nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, contracted Ebola, though there are a number of steps from removal of protective equipment to the disposal of hazardous waste, where the virus can make contact with a new person, according to the CDC.

Eventually, the CDC group may grow to 10 members, according to Daigle. “It depends on the situation,” he said. “I was sent to Dallas for 10 days, and ended up staying for three weeks.”

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