By Colleen Jenkins
WINSTON-SALEM N.C. (Reuters) - The family of a Texas doctor who contracted the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa had traveled back to the United States before he showed symptoms and was not at risk for getting or spreading the disease, U.S. health officials said on Monday.
Dr. Kent Brantly, 33, is one of two American relief workers to test positive for the highly contagious virus that has killed 672 people across the region in the largest-ever Ebola outbreak, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
He was treating Ebola patients in Monrovia, Liberia, in his role as medical director for a case management center run by North Carolina-based Samaritan’s Purse, a relief organization headed by evangelist Franklin Graham.
The organization said a missionary from Charlotte, North Carolina, was also in isolation receiving treatment after testing positive for Ebola.
Nancy Writebol had helped disinfect the protective suits worn by medical personnel inside the isolation ward at the center in Monrovia, said Rachael Mills, a Samaritan’s Purse spokeswoman.
Mills did not have details on Monday about the conditions of Brantly and Writebol, who she said each had served in Liberia since 2013.
"It’s just really amazing that people like Dr. Brantly and Ms. Nancy raise their hands and go and risk their lives to assist these people," Mills said.
Health officials said Brantly's wife and two young children returned to Abilene, Texas, before he displayed signs of the disease, which is not contagious until symptoms such as fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding occur.
They have not shown any symptoms and their blood tests have been negative for Ebola, said doctors at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, where Brantly did his residency.
The family is on a 21-day fever watch "out of an abundance of caution," said Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.
Writebol's husband, also a missionary, is devastated by her diagnosis, said the couple's pastor in Charlotte. The fatality rate of the current outbreak is about 60 percent.
"She's not doing well," Calvary Church senior pastor John Munro said in the Charlotte Observer. "It's grim news."
No Ebola cases have been reported in the United States. President Barack Obama is getting updates on the outbreak, and the CDC said it was alerting U.S. healthcare providers to watch for signs of the virus. [L2N0Q31NJ]
"The likelihood of this outbreak outside of West Africa is very low," Monroe said. But he added that the "CDC needs to be prepared for the remote possibility about someone bringing it here."
(Additional reporting by Jana J. Pruet in Dallas; Editing by Peter Cooney)