University announces UT student was on same flight as nurse later diagnosed with Ebola

Alex Wilts

President William Powers Jr. announced Friday that a University student was on the same flight as a health care worker who has tested positive for the Ebola virus, but the student is not showing any symptoms.

According to Powers, the student was onboard Frontier Airlines flight 1143 on Oct. 13. Amber Vinson, a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas who was involved in the care of Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan, was also on board the flight and was later diagnosed with Ebola. Powers said in an email to the UT community that the student was not sitting near Vinson on the flight.

“The student was not seated in the zone of concern on the plane, is not showing any symptoms, is monitoring body temperature, and is in daily contact with health officials, according to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Powers said in an email sent to the UT community. “The student has been fully compliant beyond the CDC recommendations for possible Ebola exposure.”

At a press conference Friday at Austin City Hall to discuss the matter, Philip Huang, medical director and health authority for the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department said out of an abundance of caution, the student is voluntarily restricting his or her own activities.

“This individual is very low-risk, and from a public health standpoint, there are no restrictions that have been recommended,” Huang said. “This is not someone who has Ebola.”

Currently, three people in total have been diagnosed with the Ebola virus in the U.S. Huang said as Ebola is transmitted through contact with blood and bodily fluids, and there is no evidence of the University student coming in contact with these substances.

“The people who have developed Ebola disease in Dallas were health care professionals that were [directly] dealing with the patient,” Huang said. “In that setting, that’s a whole lot more exposure.”

Powers said in his email that the student would be staying home from class at their private residence. He or she will not return to school until Nov. 3, according to Bob Harkins, associate vice president for campus safety and security, who also spoke at the press conference.

Harkins said he has already talked to some parents of University students with general concerns about the virus, and he anticipates there will be more calls. He said the University has an infectious disease plan that is revisited it every year in case of an endemic. 

“We visited it back in July, specifically to look at what were doing in the event that we did have an Ebola outbreak,” Harkins said.  “All of the agencies on campus – whether that’s Housing, or Student Affairs or the provost’s office – have specific tasks that they’ve gone through now to upgrade our perfection levels, as has the Medical Center. We feel that we’re about as ready as we can be to try and ward off any of the bad infections.”

This story has been updated since its original publication.