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Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola as Deadly Virus Arrives in New York City

By  Ben Fractenberg Julie  Shapiro and Jeff Mays | October 23, 2014 9:28pm | Updated on October 23, 2014 11:25pm

 Dr. Craig Spencer, a Harlem resident who worked for Doctors Without Borders in Guinea, tested positive for Ebola on Oct. 23, 2014.
Ebola in New York City
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NEW YORK — Ebola has arrived in New York City.

A Harlem doctor who recently returned from Guinea is the first New Yorker to be diagnosed with the deadly virus, which has killed nearly 5,000 people in West Africa, officials confirmed Thursday evening.

Dr. Craig Spencer, 33, who treated Ebola patients in Guinea through Doctors Without Borders, fell ill with a 100.3-degree fever on Thursday morning and was rushed from his West 147th Street home to Bellevue Hospital, where he was quarantined for testing and treatment, officials said.

► Ebola Outbreak Got You Panicked? Here's How to Cope

He also had gastrointestinal problems but was in stable condition Friday morning, health officials said.

 New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio held a press conference at Bellevue Hospital after a doctor tested positive for the Ebola virus Oct. 23, 2014.
New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio held a press conference at Bellevue Hospital after a doctor tested positive for the Ebola virus Oct. 23, 2014.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

"There is no reason for New Yorkers to be alarmed," Mayor Bill de Blasio said, standing alongside Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other officials at a press conference at Bellevue Hospital just before 10 p.m. Thursday. "Ebola is a very difficult disease to contract... We have been preparing for months for the threat posed by Ebola."

Even before Spencer’s diagnosis was confirmed, health officials were already working to track Spencer’s movements and find people he had been in contact with since his return to the United States on Oct. 17.

Spencer had close contact with his fiancée, Morgan Dixon, and two friends, who are being quarantined and monitored but are currently healthy and are not being tested for Ebola, said Dr. Mary Bassett, commissioner of the city's Department of Health, at the Thursday evening press conference.

People who have been infected with Ebola are not contagious until they begin to feel sick. The virus is spread through direct contact with the infected person's bodily fluids, and is not airborne like a cold or the flu.

Spencer first began feeling tired on Tuesday but did not develop a fever until Thursday morning.

On Wednesday, he traveled to the High Line and a restaurant, and in the evening he went bowling at The Gutter in Williamsburg, Bassett said. The Gutter was subsequently shut down by health officials as a precaution. 

On Wednesday night, Spencer took an Uber car home. Health officials were monitoring the driver of the car but considered the driver to be at lower risk than Spencer's fiancée and friends because there was no direct contact, Bassett said.

Uber released a statement saying that the city's Department of Health determined that "neither our driver partner nor any of his subsequent passengers are at risk."

"We have communicated this to the driver, and the NYC DOHMH medical team met with the driver in person, assuring him that he is not at risk," Uber said in the emailed statement. "Our thoughts are with the patient and his loved ones."

Officials were also tracing Spencer's subway travel, including trips on the A, L and 1 lines, Bassett said, but she added that the risk to other riders was essentially "nil."

Spencer, who worked as a fellow of international emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian, had not returned to his job at the hospital since his trip to Guinea, hospital officials said.

The closure of The Gutter, on North 14th Street, forced organizers to cancel planned CMJ Music Festival shows there on Thursday evening.

Keith Vogelsong, owner of Goodnight Records, which had organized the event, said The Gutter had told him only that "unforeseen circumstances" had caused the cancelation. He was shocked when he stopped by and found the bowling alley locked and surrounded by the press.

"There were a bunch of news people there, and they were like, 'Ebola,' and I was like, 'What?'" Vogelsong said. "It's a bummer, but I hope everything is OK."

The Gutter did not respond to requests for comment Thursday evening.

Spencer had been serving with Doctors Without Borders in Guinea. A recent blog post from The Program on Force Migration and Health at Columbia University indicated that Spencer had been working on Ebola while he was in that country.

Tim Shenk, a spokesman for Doctors Without Borders, said the group received a call Thursday morning from Spencer saying that he had "developed a fever."

Since his return from Guinea, Spencer had been following the agency's guidelines and was closely monitoring his health and reported the "development immediately," said Shenk.

Fire officials said they received a call from Spencer's West Harlem address at 11:52 a.m. Thursday. He was rushed to Bellevue by a specially trained ambulance unit wearing protective gear with the help of a police escort.

"The physician is a dedicated humanitarian on the staff of NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center who went to an area of medical crisis to help a desperately underserved population," read a statement from NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. "He is a committed and responsible physician who always puts his patients first."

 The Gutter, a bowling alley located at 200 N. 14th St., was shut down Oct. 23, 2014, after a man who bowled there was diagnosed with Ebola.
The Gutter, a bowling alley located at 200 N. 14th St., was shut down Oct. 23, 2014, after a man who bowled there was diagnosed with Ebola.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

Spencer is engaged to be married to Dixon next September in Detroit.

Reached by phone Thursday night, Dixon declined comment. Staff at Bellevue Hospital's emergency room confirmed that Dixon was a patient there Thursday evening.

Spencer's wedding website says he met his future bride in China and that the pair traveled the world before moving to New York.

"Craig's friends say he's a goofball, incredible gifted in both art, music and science, and a go-getter," the website read.

"Morgan's friends say she's full of razzle dazzle, street smart, and a problem solving whiz," the site continues.

Bellevue, where Spencer is being treated and where Dixon is quarantined, is one of four New York City hospitals designated as Ebola treatment centers, with a special unit to safely care for Ebola patients.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was expected to confirm the results of the initial positive Ebola test within 24 hours, officials said. The federal agency will also send teams to New York to work with Bellevue.

Some residents on Spencer's West Harlem block were nervous.

City Councilman Mark Levine handed out literature about Ebola and ways to prevent its spread outside of Spencer's apartment building.

"People are scared," Levine said. "People hear the word Ebola in their neighborhood and they are afraid."

Sam Miller, associate commissioner for the Health Department, said outside Spencer's apartment building that the doctor's apartment was "sealed off."

Spencer's neighbor, John Roston, 38, a computer repairman, said he saw the doctor regularly.

"I see him all the time wearing scrubs," said Roston. "He lives in the hospital."

At Thursday night's press conference, Cuomo drew a contrast between New York's response to Ebola and the response in Dallas, Texas, where patient Thomas Eric Duncan was initially sent home from a hospital even though he had Ebola symptoms. Duncan was later hospitalized and died of the virus, and two nurses who treated him were infected.

"We are as ready as one could be for this circumstance," Cuomo said. "What happened in Dallas was quite the opposite. Dallas was caught, unfortunately, before they knew what they were dealing with. We had the benefit of learning from Dallas."

Cuomo urged New Yorkers not to panic about the city's first Ebola case.

"I know the word Ebola right now can spread fear just by the sound of the word," Cuomo said.

"That it’s here in New York is more frightening. New York is a dense place, a lot of people on top of each other, but the more facts you know, the less frightening the situation is. We’ve already acted very, very quickly."