Medical group defends New York Ebola doctor

Doctors Without Borders is defending its protocols after one of its doctors tested positive for the Ebola virus after returning to New York City.

Craig Spencer, 33, is the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States outside the state of Texas. Before discovering he had the disease, he traveled on the subway, used the Uber ride-sharing app, went to a bowling alley and jogged three miles through the city.

That has raised new questions about whether Spencer might have put other Americans at risk after returning from West Africa.

“Extremely strict procedures are in place for staff dispatched to Ebola affected countries before, during, and after their assignments,” Sophie Delaunay, the group's executive director, wrote in a statement.

“Despite the strict protocols, risk cannot be completely eliminated. However, close post-assignment monitoring allows for early detection of cases and for swift isolation and medical management,” she said.

Doctors Without Borders emphasized that Spencer did not put others at risk after returning to New York, because he had followed protocol.

“He did not leave his apartment until paramedics transported him safely to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, and he posed no public health threat prior to developing symptoms,” the organization said in a statement, echoing remarks from New York officials.

Lawmakers, led by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), have said all health workers who have treated Ebola patients should be quarantined during the disease’s three-week contamination period — not just be told to self-isolate.

City officials said Spencer had spent “most of his time” self-isolating himself in his apartment in Harlem. Still, he had been with three friends, used Uber, rode the subway and visited a bowling alley.

Murphy said Thursday that the U.S. must “take every necessary precaution to prevent the spread of Ebola virus here in the United States by implementing a mandatory 21-day quarantine period for returning healthcare workers who have had direct exposure to patients.”

Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières, said all staff members who return from Ebola-stricken regions are told to self-monitor for symptoms to “ensure the health and well being of its staff and the community at large.”

The organization’s protocols did not tell staff to entirely avoid public contact after returning from West Africa, which has become a major political sticking point. 

Staff are only advised to “refrain from traveling on public transportation” if they develop Ebola-like symptoms within three weeks of their return to the U.S., according to the statement.

Spencer is the first person from the international organization to carry the disease into their home country. He is one of 3,000 employees of Doctors Without Borders in West Africa, about 270 of whom are international workers.

Twenty-four staff members have fallen ill, and 13 have died.

- This post was updated at 11:21 a.m.