Monday, January 19, 2015

Sick traveler who worked with Ebola patients taken to Hackensack University Medical Center

A woman who had been working in Sierra Leone with Ebola patients was taken off a United Airlines flight at Newark Liberty Airport in a hazmat suit Monday afternoon and transported to Hackensack University Medical Center after she exhibited a high fever and vomited on the flight, government officials and law enforcement sources said.

The woman was identified only as a health care practitioner by authorities. They did not detail whether she is a doctor, a nurse or an aide and did not specify where she lives. Newark is one of five airports in the United States designated as a point of entry for people coming from parts of West Africa where there was an Ebola outbreak last year, and Hackensack is one of three hospitals in New Jersey authorized to isolate and assess potential Ebola patients.

The patient was taken to Hackensack because it was that hospital’s turn in the rotation, said Alicia D’Alessandro, a spokeswoman for Bergen County Executive James Tedesco. She said that Tedesco is not aware of any other patients being sent to Hackensack since it was designated as an assessment center last year.

The news brought media outlets from across the region to the Hackensack hospital Monday evening. Hackensack University Medical Center officials did not immediately return messages. The state Department of Health also did not respond to questions.

The Boeing 777-200 aircraft, United Flight 45 from Brussels, landed at Newark Airport before 2 p.m. and the woman was taken off the plane by members of the Port Authority Police Department, authorities said. The responders also wore hazmat suits, and the woman was transported by ambulance to Hackensack at about 3 p.m., said a law enforcement source.

The source said that all standard protocols were followed, which means that disembarking passengers were told to self monitor and report any changes in their health to authorities. United Airlines said the plane had been carrying 248 passengers and 14 crew members.

Luke Punzenberger, a United spokesman, issued a brief statement on behalf of the airline. “After arriving at Newark Airport from Brussels, medical personnel met a United flight to assist an ill passenger on board,” he said. “Passengers and crew stayed on the plane until the medical personnel cleared the aircraft.”

News 4 New York reported that a Twitter user on board the plane tweeted that authorities were having passengers fill out health forms and that responders were in Hazmat suits.

Last month, the federal government tabbed Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick as the only hospital in the state authorized to treat Ebola patients, and among 35 such treatment centers nationwide. The Hackensack University Medical Center and University Hospital in Newark were designated at the time as “assessment hospitals” where a patient would receive care for up to 96 hours while awaiting results from an Ebola blood test.

Protocols call for passengers coming from Sierra Leone, Liberia or Guinea who exhibit possible Ebola symptoms, like high fevers, to be transported to designated hospitals, where they are placed in isolation and assessed.

Passengers originating from those countries are limited to five points of entry. In addition to Newark, they are John F. Kennedy International Airport, Washington-Dulles, Atlanta-Hartsfield and Chicago-O'Hare.

Story, comments and photo:

United passengers on Brussels to Newark flt fill out health forms after 5 health officials board plane.

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