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NM woman being tested for Ebola at UNMH

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

A 30-year-old woman is being tested for the deadly Ebola virus at University of New Mexico Hospital, but health officials say it’s unlikely she has it.

UPDATE: Test results negative; New Mexico woman did not have Ebola

The state Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are testing the woman, who returned to New Mexico earlier this month from Sierra Leone, which is one of several countries in West Africa with known cases of Ebola. There have been more than a thousand deaths in West Africa attributed to the Ebola virus since March.

The woman, who worked overseas as a teacher, has a sore throat, headache, muscle aches and fever and is in stable condition. Those are similar to the initial symptoms of Ebola.

She had no known exposure to Ebola, and health officials said the tests are being done “out of an abundance of caution,” according to a Health Department news release. Preliminary test results are expected late this week.

The only way for the virus to spread is for someone to come in direct contact with the bodily fluids of a person who is sick with Ebola. It is not spread through food, air or water.

Health care workers treating the woman at UNMH wear protective gowns, gloves, face mask and eye protection. The hospital is also limiting her visitors, said Dr. Meghan Brett, the UNMH epidemiologist.

“Returning from overseas with a fever could be a lot of things,” Brett said. “It could be routine.”

The only confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States are two health care workers who got the virus in Liberia and are being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

The New Mexico woman returned to the Albuquerque area on Aug. 4 and started to show symptoms on Aug. 15, said Dr. Joan Baumbach, the deputy epidemiologist for the state Health Department.

The incubation period for Ebola is from two to 21 days, she said.

Baumbach said in an interview that health officials have sent a vial of the woman’s blood to the CDC in Atlanta where it will be tested. She said officials are expecting preliminary information on whether the woman has the disease or not late this week.

Since March, there have been 2,127 suspected and confirmed cases and 1,145 deaths in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierre Leone, according to the CDC’s website.

The virus begins with a fever and muscle pain and can be followed with impaired liver and kidney function, rashes and internal and external bleeding. There is no cure or vaccine available for the virus, which has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent, according to the World Health Organization. Patients usually die of shock, according to the National Institutes of Health.

In West Africa, the virus is primarily being spread to health care workers who treat sick people without taking the preventative measures that are practiced widely in the United States or by people caring for family members with the virus, Baumbach said.