A patient was admitted Tuesday to Massachusetts General Hospital to be tested for Ebola, but the illness had not been confirmed, officials said.
Dr. Paul Biddinger, the hospital's medical director of emergency preparedness, said the person remained in stable condition and good spirits.
The patient, who was admitted about 2 p.m. Tuesday, was being watched because of a history of travel to an area where Ebola is present, the possibility of exposure to the virus, and symptoms similar to those seen with the disease. The patient had been undergoing monitoring by the Boston Public Health Commission when the decision was made to hospitalize the individual.
But Biddinger emphasized in an interview that the symptoms of Ebola mirror those of many other diseases, "many of which are more likely than Ebola."
During a late-night briefing outside the hospital, Biddinger said initial test results for the patient could become available overnight. Other results will take longer, he said.
He declined to say what symptoms the patient showed Tuesday but said signs of the Ebola virus can include headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The doctor would not disclose the patient's age or gender.
This is the first time that MGH has admitted a patient under investigation for Ebola. But representatives from state and city public health agencies said there had been suspected cases at other hospitals, with Ebola being quickly ruled out.
As a precaution, the MGH treating the patient donned the maximum full-body personal protective equipment — known widely as "moon suits" — and the patient was placed in an isolation room set aside for this purpose in the emergency department, Biddinger said.
"The challenge is that in order to figure out what might be the most likely diagnosis for a patient, you have to have an interaction with them," Biddinger said. "When Ebola is a possibility, we start with the highest level of personal protection.
"These are protocols we've been practicing since July," he added, noting that on Monday, federal officials had reviewed the adequacy of the hospital's procedures.
During the news conference, Biddinger sought to provide assurance the patient presents no risk. "We feel extremely confident that all of our patients, all of our staff, all of our visitors are perfectly safe," the physician said.
The Boston health agency said in a statement that it does not, as a matter of policy, comment on suspected cases. "For months, BPHC has conducted extensive trainings, public awareness campaigns, and coordination with our partners at the state level and surrounding municipalities," the commission's statement said. "We have full confidence in our departments and health care organizations that we can keep Boston residents and visitors safe and healthy."
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health also put out a statement: "There are no confirmed cases of Ebola in Massachusetts. Over the past several months, the DPH has worked with area hospitals on investigations of Ebola, and they have all been quickly ruled out. DPH will only be reporting confirmed cases."