Dallas lab worker quarantined aboard cruise ship, other passengers stranded aboard

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Dallas health care worker quarantined on cruise ship

A Dallas lab worker believed to have handled specimens from the Liberian man who became the first person to be diagnosed and die of Ebola on U.S. soil is quarantined aboard a Carnival Cruise ship off the coast of Belize.

The Belize coast guard is not allowing the ship to dock or its passengers to disembark, although the unidentified woman is being monitored and has not shown symptoms, according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. She was identified through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s effort to track everyone who came into contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the man who died Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital after infecting at least two nurses who have been identified and are being treated.

"The employee has been self-monitoring, including daily temperature checks, since Oct. 6, and has not had a fever or demonstrated any symptoms of illness," Psaki said in a statement. "It has been 19 days since the passenger may have processed the since deceased patient’s fluid samples."

Psaki said a doctor aboard the ship has monitored the woman and confirmed she is in good health. She and a traveling companion have voluntarily remained isolated in a cabin. 

Carnival Cruise Linessaid the CDC contacted the company on Wednesday to alert them that a passenger who may have had contact with Duncan's specimens was aboard its ship.

"At no point in time has the individual exhibited any symptoms or signs of infection and it has been 19 days since she was in the lab with the testing samples," the company said in a statement. "She is deemed by CDC to be very low risk.  At this time, the guest remains in isolation on board the ship and is not deemed to be a risk to any guests or crew. It is important to reiterate that the individual has no symptoms and has been isolated in an extreme abundance of caution. We are in close contact with the CDC and at this time it has been determined that the appropriate course of action is to simply keep the guest in isolation on board."

The ship left Galveston, Texas, on Oct. 12. Officials said the lab worker did not have direct contact with Duncan, but may have had contact with clinical specimens collected from him. At the time the woman left on the cruise, the CDC was requiring medical workers involved in treating Duncan to self- monitor and was not restricting their travel.It has since updated requirements for active monitoring.

The State Department did not confirm the location or operator of the ship the ship, but Belizean news reports identified it as the cruise ship Carnival Magic, and said it was being kept offshore after the island nation's government learned that a U.S. hospital worker on board may have been exposed to Ebola. The government assured its citizens that neither the health care nor as many as 4,000 others aboard the ship were allowed on the island.

"The government of Belize reassures the public that the passenger never set foot in Belize and while we remain in close contact with U.S. officials we have maintained the position that when even the smallest doubt remains, we will ensure the health and safety of the Belizean people," the government said in a press release.

The statement added that the passenger is "considered of very low risk for Ebola,” but "nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution, the Government of Belize decided not to facilitate a U.S. request for assistance in evacuating the passenger through the Phillip Goldson International Airport.”

Two nurses who treated Duncan at the hospital, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, have been diagnosed with Ebola. Pham was flown on Thursday to the National Institutes of Health facility in Bethesda, Md., and is recovering. Vinson, who got clearance from the CDC to take a domestic flight from Cleveland to Dallas despite advising officials she had a temperature, is being treated at Emory Hospital, in Atlanta.

The disease has killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa, with most of the deaths coming in the nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The Associated Press contributed to this report