Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, died Wednesday in a Dallas hospital after a weeks-long battle that tested public health officials' defenses against the deadly virus and triggered a scramble to contain it.
Duncan died Wednesday morning at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, two weeks after he first fell ill and more than three weeks after he contracted the disease Ein his home country of Liberia. He is believed to have been infected when he helped carry a dying woman to the hospital there.
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"His suffering is over. My family is in deep sadness and grief, but we leave him in the hands of God," his girlfriend Louise Troh, whom he had reportedly come to the U.S. to marry, said in a statement. "Eric was a wonderful man who showed compassion toward all."
The hospital said he died at 7:51 a.m. local time Wednesday morning of the "insidious" illness. "He fought courageously in this battle," it said.
Duncan traveled from his hometown of Monrovia, Liberia, on Sept. 19, days after neighbors said he helped take a woman dying of Ebola to the hospital.
His brother in Phoenix, Arizona, told The Associated Press that Duncan headed to Dallas to be with his girlfriend and child. He said he did not believe Duncan knew he had Ebola before he left Liberia.
Duncan went to the hospital on Sept. 25 with a temperature of 100.1 degrees. He told the nurse he had recently traveled to Dallas from Liberia, the hospital acknowledged, but he was sent home with antibiotics when he would have been most contagious.
He returned to the hospital in an ambulance days later, on Sept. 28, was diagnosed with Ebola and was put in isolation, where he was treated with an experimental drug.
Four people living in a Dallas apartment where Duncan was staying when he fell ill, including his girlfriend with whom he has a son, are being monitored for signs of the virus as part of a 21-day court-ordered quarantine. So are dozens of other people who may have come into contact with him.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a top local official responsible for the county's disaster and emergency preparedness operations, said in a statement that his thoughts are with "the family and friends of Thomas Eric Duncan at this time, especially his fiancée Louise, their son Karsiah and all those who loved him."
"We are also thinking of the dedicated hospital staff who assisted Mr. Duncan daily while he fought this terrible disease," he said. "We offer prayers of comfort and peace to everyone impacted by his passing."
While many people were focused on the medical aspect of this case, Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. David Lakey acknowledged the family's personal battle.
"They have our sincere condolences, and we are keeping them in our thoughts," Lakey said.
Duncan's death Wednesday raised concerns among officials about health care workers' safety as they handle his remains.
Contact with the body of a person who died of Ebola can be dangerous, since the virus can survive in bodily fluids so long as they remain wet and at room temperature. The Centers for Disease Control has given guidance for how to handle an Ebola victim's body safely.
Any hospital employees who handle the body of someone who died of Ebola must wear personal protective equipment, including a scrub suit, cap, gown over the suit, eye protection, face mask and more. They must remove the equipment in a prescribed manner and wash their hands very carefully.
The body of a person who died of Ebola must be wrapped in multiple leak-proof plastic bags and disinfected, according to CDC guidelines. The body must be cremated or immediately buried in a sealed casket, and mortuary personnel must take the same precautions as hospital personnel.
"We’ll continue every effort to contain the spread of the virus and protect people from this threat,” Lakey said.