(CNN) — Several Ebola patients treated in the United States have survived, but the first person ever diagnosed with the deadly virus on American soil did not.
Thomas Eric Duncan died Wednesday at the Texas hospital where he was being treated, 10 days after he was admitted.
“Mr. Duncan succumbed to an insidious disease, Ebola. He fought courageously in this battle. Our professionals, the doctors and nurses in the unit, as well as the entire Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas community, are also grieving his passing,” hospital spokesman Wendell Watson said in a statement.
His family is devastated, their pastor told reporters. And the woman he had planned to marry is haunted by “what ifs” about his care.
“What if they had taken him right away? And what if they had been able to get treatment to him earlier?” Pastor George Mason of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas told reporters.
“He got sick and went to the hospital and was turned away, and that’s the turning point here,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a spokesman for the family, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
Louise Troh, Duncan’s longtime partner, said through a public relations firm that she believes “a thorough examination will take place regarding all aspects of his care.”
“She is not seeking to create any kinds of divisions in our community over this. She certainly, like all of us, would want to see justice done,” Mason said. “She wants to see that people are treated well and treated fairly, and that includes Mr. Duncan. But this is a human drama. It’s not a political drama. … It is a drama of human grief.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Tom Frieden told reporters that Duncan died “despite maximal interventions.”
“He is a face that we associate now with Ebola. Since the start of the epidemic, 3,742 patients in West Africa have been documented to have died,” Frieden said. “So we think about this and we remember what a deadly enemy Ebola is, and how important it is that we take every step possible to both protect Americans and stop the outbreak at its source in Africa.”
Officials: Duncan will be cremated
Duncan will be cremated, state health officials said. A memorial service for him is scheduled for Wednesday evening, Mason said.
State officials, in announcing the planned cremation, cited the strict federal policies on the handling of Ebola victims. “The cremation process will kill any virus in the body so the remains can be returned to the family. No protective gear is needed to handle the remains after cremation,” said a statement from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Duncan had been in critical condition after being diagnosed with the virus in mid-September. People who had contact with the 42-year-old Liberian national are being monitored for symptoms.
Some members of Duncan’s family are being monitored for the virus — their temperatures taken twice daily — to make sure they don’t have symptoms. Ebola can take 21 days to show itself. The CDC said that as of Tuesday, they had not shown any symptoms.
Several who have had contact with him were moved to a secure location Friday.
After word of the death, CNN correspondent Gary Tuchman went to a Dallas apartment where Duncan’s family members were previously and spoke with the adult daughter of Duncan’s partner.
The daughter, Youngor Jallah, is not considered to have come into contact with Duncan. She was crying and declined to speak, though she did say the family had received a call from the hospital and knew that Duncan had died.
Five Dallas schoolchildren who possibly had contact with Duncan remain on the school district’s homebound program during the 21-day wait, and none are showing symptoms, the district said Wednesday.
The time since Duncan’s hospitalization has been an “enormous test of our health system,” said Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services.
“For one family it has been far more personal,” he said in a statement. “Today they lost a dear member of their family. They have our sincere condolences, and we are keeping them in our thoughts.”
He vowed that health care workers will continue to try to stop the spread of the virus “and protect people from this threat.”
Questions about Duncan’s case
Duncan came to the U.S. to visit family and friends, departing Liberia on September 19, according to the CDC. It was his first trip to America, his half-brother Wilfred Smallwood said. Liberian authorities said he was screened for Ebola before flying.
It’s unclear how he got Ebola, but witnesses have said that he had been helping victims of the virus in Liberia, and The New York Times said he’d had direct contact with an Ebola-stricken pregnant woman. Duncan answered “no” to questions about whether he’d cared for someone with the virus.
His symptoms first appeared “four to five days” after he landed in the U.S., Frieden said.
Duncan went to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital after 10 p.m. on September 25 and was treated for a fever, vomiting and abdominal pain — all symptoms of Ebola — but he was sent home with antibiotics and a pain reliever and was not screened for Ebola.
He returned two days later and was then tested for Ebola, after which his treatment at the hospital began.
There are a lot of questions about the handling of Duncan’s case.
Dr. Alex Van Tulleken, an expert in tropical diseases at Fordham University in New York who is not involved in the case, said on CNN on Wednesday that the two-day lag time could have been “significant.”
New measures at U.S. airports to screen for people possibly carrying the Ebola virus will include taking passengers’ temperatures and handing them questionnaires, according to a federal official and a second person briefed on an announcement.
The enhanced methods, focused on people coming from West African nations hit by the Ebola crisis, will begin soon at New York’s JFK airport and then expand to four other major international airports: Newark, Chicago, Washington Dulles and Atlanta.
A federal official says the enhanced screening will apply only to passengers arriving from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
The measures will “find people with fever,” as well as those who have been in contact with people infected with the virus, Frieden said. Most passengers tracked in West Africa with fevers actually had other illnesses, something that Frieden acknowledged could happen in the United States as well.
“So we expect to see some patients with fever,” the CDC director said. “And that will cause some understandable concern at the airports.”
Frieden said that these new measures are helpful, but they won’t entirely eliminate the risk of the virus spreading.
“Whatever we do can’t get the risk to zero here in the interconnected world that we live in today,” he said.
Frieden said that banning all travel to West Africa to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus would cause more problems than it would solve.
“It makes it hard to get health workers in, because they can’t get out,” he said. “If we make it harder to respond to the outbreak in West Africa, it will spread not only in those three countries (in West Africa hit hardest by Ebola) but to other parts of Africa and ultimately increase the risk here” in the United States.
The Ebola virus can spread through contact with bodily fluids — blood, sweat, feces, vomit, semen and saliva — and only by someone who is showing symptoms, according to the CDC.
People with Ebola may not be symptomatic for up to 21 days.
Symptoms generally occur abruptly eight to 10 days after infection, though that period can range from two to 21 days, health officials say.
Air travelers must keep in mind that Ebola is not transmitted through the air, said Dr. Marty Cetron, director of the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine.
“There needs to be direct contact frequently with body fluids or blood,” he stressed.