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Politics And Public Fear Drive Ebola Scare In Miami-Dade

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - The experts at the Centers For Disease Control told Florida Sunday not to expend resources testing a West Africa boy for Ebola.

The child visiting Miami Beach turned up at the Mount Sinai emergency room with a fever, sick.  The hospital immediately put him in isolation and doctors and nurses donned full protective gear.

But the CDC, after reviewing the boy's history and symptoms, said he did not meet the criteria to be tested for Ebola.

"They made the call that it was unlikely to be Ebola, it wasn't a high risk," said Dr. Kenneth Ratzan, Mount Sinai's Chief of Infectious Diseases.  "There were several things that made it a lower risk."

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CBS4 News has learned the boy was visiting from a country in Africa where there have been only a few cases of Ebola reported, and where the disease is under control.  Additionally, preliminary blood tests on the child did not point toward Ebola, nor did his combined symptoms.

The Florida Department of Health approved testing the boy for Ebola, only after Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez requested it be done "out of an abundance of caution."

The test was negative, and is expected to be confirmed in a mirror test by the CDC this week.

Clinicians worry that politicians might be making public health decisions.

"If people who aren't involved with the care of the patient intervene-who aren't professionals-intervene because of the politics and the publicity, it doesn't make us feel good, said Mount Sinai's Ratzan.

In the same breath, Ratzan conceded it was probably worth administering the Ebola test to the youngster, given the fear in the community.

"I think that was the right call, given all the media outcry and the public outcry," Ratzan said.

Ratzan acknowledged there was not total agreement among doctors at Mount Sinai as to whether the test was needed.

"Some of our emergency room doctors thought it might be advisable" Ratzan said.  "If we had seen 50 or 60 cases of Ebola, it would be an easier call to make, but we have not."

The boy was transferred from Mount Sinai to Jackson Memorial Hospital's pediatric unit on Sunday in a Miami Beach rescue unit lined in plastic, and with paramedics wearing full protective gear.

"We suited up for the worst case scenario, and going forward that's the way we're going to operate," said Miami Beach Fire Chief Virgil Fernandez.

Mount Sinai's Ratzan said he is confident there will be no Ebola outbreak in the U.S.  "There is an outstanding public health system in place.  We may see another case or two, but nothing in the way of wide spread of the disease."

Noted infectious disease specialist Dr. Aileen Marty of Florida International University surmised that the boy who fell sick here came not only from a country where there is very little Ebola, but probably a region far from where the few cases have occurred.  She had no personal information, but speculated the child may be from Senegal where Ebola showed up in a very limited area recently and "is fully contained."

"Lots of factors go into determining whether to test for Ebola," Marty said.  "We can't test everyone for the disease who shows up with a fever, absent other indicators that Ebola is suspected."

Florida's Department of Emergency Management issued a statement saying that the state Department of Health has asked to the CDC to provide hospitals across the state with an additional 30 Ebola testing kits, and 100 more protective suits for health care workers and others to wear when encountering suspected disease.

At Jackson Health Monday, doctors demonstrated protective gear they and nurses where when dealing with a suspected Ebola patients and others who might have serious illness.

Dr. Abdul Momen would not comment on the case of the boy who tested negative, citing "patient confidentiality."


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