(But my memory of the event was pretty darn true. I was a medical student there, at the time…see my previous post)
By MICHAEL COOPER
Published: August 26, 1996
Mistakenly fearing that two seriously ill siblings who had recently come from Africa might have been suffering from the deadly and highly contagious Ebola virus, officials shut down North Central Bronx Hospital’s emergency room for more than two hours yesterday afternoon when the children were brought there for treatment.
It turned out that the children actually had severe cases of malaria, which is usually transmitted by mosquitoes, said Fred Winters, a Health Department spokesman. One of the children with the disease, a 10-year-old boy, died at 1:30 P.M. yesterday.
The two children had come with their parents a week ago from the West African nation of Guinea. The dead boy’s 13-year-old sister remained in critical condition in the intensive care unit of Montefiore Medical Center last night.
Before malaria was diagnosed, hospital workers spent two very jittery hours unsure what, if any, threat was present in their hospital.
Mr. Winters said that when hospital workers learned the children were from Africa, they immediately suspected they could have been infected with Ebola.
No one was allowed to enter or leave the emergency room after it was closed. The siblings were kept in isolation, and patients were rerouted to other area hospitals, like Montefiore, which is around the corner.
”Whenever there is a fear of infectious disease, it is best to take the most conservative steps,” Mr. Winters said. ”They didn’t know what they were dealing with at first.”
Tracy Schneider, a hospital administrator, said that the crisis was handled smoothly, with the emergency room being reopened at 4:30 P.M. ”It’s better to err on the side of prudence,” she said.
Guinea is not known for having the Ebola virus, which killed 245 people in Zaire last year and is fatal about 70 percent of the time. Malaria is rarely fatal if it is detected early enough; less than 1 percent of those who get the disease eventually die from it if it is treated in time. But the two children, who were not identified, were already in advanced stages of the disease.
”These children had an overwhelming infection,” Dr. Todd Schiffer said at a news conference outside the hospital.
As rumors that an unknown tropical disease had been detected spread to nonmedical personnel and neighbors near the hospital yesterday, an air of unease gripped the Norwood section of the Bronx. Three mothers outside the hospital, enjoying the sunny afternoon, bundled their children into strollers and pushed them away as soon as they heard.
Lorraine Garcia was walking out of her apartment building near the hospital when she heard the news. ”A friend told me that someone had died in the hospital of a contagious disease from Africa,” she said. ”He told me not to let my little boy outside.”