Officials are now reporting that Dr. Martin Salia, the surgeon flown from Sierra Leon to Nebraska for Ebola treatment, has died from the deadly virus. Salia is the second person to die from the disease in the United States.
The Washington Post reported that while in Sierra Leon, Salia initially tested negative but then subsequently tested positive for Ebola. “When Martin Salia’s Ebola test came back negative, his friends and colleagues threw their arms around him. They shook his hand. They patted him on the back. They removed their protective gear and cried.” But after his symptoms did not disappear, he tested again only to find out that he was positive for Ebola.
“We were celebrating. If the test says you are Ebola-free, we assume you are Ebola-free,” said Komba Songu M’Briwa, who cared for Salia at the Hastings Ebola Treatment Center in Freetown. “Then everything fell apart.”
Apparently, doctors in Sierra Leone were unaware that initial testing could render a false negative result.
In many cases, a negative test at that stage means nothing because “there aren’t enough copies of the virus in the blood for the test to pick up,” said Ermias Belay, the head of the CDC’s Ebola response team in Sierra Leone.
Salia’s colleagues did not know where he contacted the disease. He did not treat Ebola patients at the United Methodist Hospital where he worked, but doctors were aware any of their patients could have the disease. Salia wore gloves while he was treating patients, but not the full protective gear.
The enhanced screening process in place in the U.S. seems to ignore the possibility that a traveler could arrive in the U.S. with symptoms and test negative for the virus only to test positive later, after they have been released into the unsuspected public.