Four members of a family the U.S. Ebola patient was staying with were confined to their Texas home under armed guard Thursday as the circle of people possibly exposed to the virus widened, while Liberian authorities said they would prosecute the man for allegedly lying on an airport questionnaire.
The unusual confinement order was imposed after the family failed to comply with a request not to leave their apartment, according to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.
Texas State Health Commissioner David Lakey said the order would help ensure the four can be closely watched, including checking them for fevers over the next three weeks.
“We didn’t have the confidence we would have been able to monitor them the way that we needed to,” he said.
The family will not be allowed to receive visitors, officials said.
The case has raised questions about whether a disease that has killed 3,300 people in West Africa could spread in the United States. U.S. health officials say they remain confident they can keep it in check.
A woman who lives in the apartment, Louise Troh, said she has been quarantined with her 13-year-old son and two nephews.
“Who wants to be locked up?” she said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Troh said she was waiting for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to collect a bag of the bed sheets and towels Thomas Eric Duncan used.
A hazardous material crew arrived to decontaminate the apartment Thursday evening but did not have the required permits to clean the home and remove hazardous waste, city spokesman Richard Hill said. He said the crew, contracted by the county and state, will return to complete the job on Friday.
The family must also be relocated before the cleanup can begin, Hill said. He had no information on where the family will go.
Visitors from the American Red Cross were seen Thursday bringing food to the apartment door. The North Texas Food Bank said it sent three days of cereal, tuna, produce and other supplies.
Outside, the management of the 300-unit complex in northeast Dallas was passing out flyers about Ebola to residents. Private security guards and local sheriff’s deputies blocked off the entrance to dozens of reporters.
Apartment manager Sally Nuran said employees were power-washing sidewalks and scrubbing common areas, though she believed Duncan had not visited most of the complex in his short time there.
Elsewhere, Texas health officials expanded their efforts to contain the virus, reaching out to as many as 100 people who may have had direct contact with Duncan or someone close to him.
None of the people is showing symptoms, but public-health officials have educated them about Ebola and told them to notify medical workers if they begin to feel ill, Erikka Neroes, a spokeswoman for the Dallas County Health and Human Services agency, said.
The at-risk group includes 12 to 18 people who came in direct contact with the infected man, including an ambulance crew and a handful of schoolchildren, she said.
“This is a big spider web” of people involved, Neroes said.
The virus that causes Ebola is not airborne and can only be spread through close contact with someone who has symptoms. People must come into direct contact with the patient’s bodily fluids — blood, sweat, vomit, feces, urine, saliva or semen — and those fluids must have an entry point.
Ebola dried on surfaces can survive for several hours, according to the CDC.
For example, people might get infected by handling soiled clothing or bed sheets and then touching their nose, mouth or eyes, or if they are not wearing gloves while doing those tasks and have a cut on their hand.
“If you sit next to someone on the bus, you’re not exposed,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said.
Neighbors in the Liberian capital believe Duncan become infected when he helped bundle a sick pregnant neighbor into a taxi a few weeks ago and set off with her to find treatment. However, it was not clear whether he had learned of the woman’s diagnosis before traveling.
Nonetheless, Liberian authorities announced plans to prosecute Duncan, accusing him of lying about not having any contact with an infected person.
Duncan answered questions about his health and activities before leaving for Dallas. Among the questions asked on the Sept. 19 form, obtained by The Associated Press, one asked whether Duncan had cared for an Ebola patient or touched the body of anyone who had died in an area affected by Ebola. He answered no to all the questions.
“We expect people to do the honorable thing,” said Binyah Kesselly, chairman of the board of directors of the Liberia Airport Authority in Monrovia.
Duncan arrived in Dallas on Sept. 20 and fell ill a few days later. His sister, Mai Wureh, identified him as the infected man in an interview with The Associated Press.
A Dallas emergency room sent Duncan home last week, even though he told a nurse that he had been in disease-ravaged West Africa, and raising questions as to whether the decision to release him may have put others at risk of exposure to Ebola.
In a statement emailed late Thursday, the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital said that it followed communicable disease protocols by also asking Duncan if he had come into contact with anyone who was ill, to which he replied he had not. At that point his symptoms were a temperature of 100.1F, two days of abdominal pain, a headache and decreased urination, the hospital said. He said he had no nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, and based on that information, the hospital decided to release him.
He returned to the facility two days layer and has been kept in isolation at the hospital since Sunday. He was listed Thursday in serious but stable condition.
Liberia is one of the three countries hit hardest in the epidemic, along with Sierra Leone and Guinea.