DAKAR (Reuters) - The man being treated for Ebola in Texas showed no signs of fever or symptoms of the virus when he left Liberia for the United States via Brussels on Sept. 19, the Liberian government said on Wednesday.
The case is the first to be diagnosed outside West Africa during the current outbreak, raising the prospect that the worst epidemic of the deadly hemorrhagic fever on record could spread to nations beyond the region.
Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown said the man, who has not been identified and is now in serious condition in an isolation ward, “manifested no signs of fever or symptoms of the virus” when he boarded the plane to Brussels, which means he was not infectious when he left.
Belgium’s health ministry said U.S. experts had advised Brussels that the man was indeed not displaying symptoms and so would not have been in a position to pass on the virus.
A spokesman said that Belgium therefore did not need to trace fellow passengers or crew of Brussel Airlines, one of a very few operators still flying to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Brown said Liberia had put in place “stringent screening measures” that were preventing Ebola from spreading via air travel and the checks are being regularly reviewed.
While Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have failed to contain the virus, Senegal and Nigeria have located and isolated cases relatively quickly. U.S. officials say they are confident they can stop it from spreading further.
“What this incident demonstrates is the clear international dimension of this Ebola crisis. For months, the Liberian government has been stressing that this disease is not simply a Liberian or West African problem,” Brown said in a statement.
“We also have every faith that the United States authorities will successfully contain this latest case so it remains an isolated incident.”
Nearly 3,100 people have died as the disease has spread across much of Sierra Leone and Liberia since the first cases were confirmed in Guinea’s remote southeast in March.
The outbreak has led to border closures and some restrictions in travel to and from the worst affected countries. But experts say such moves do more harm than good by crippling economies and hampering the aid response while having limited impact on the spread of the disease.
Reporting by David Lewis in Dakar and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels; Editing by Mark Heinrich