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As Ebola outbreak grows in Africa, U.S. nurse declared free of disease

A nurse who had recently worked with Ebola patients in West Africa and was placed under quarantine shortly after she landed in Newark on Friday has tested negative for the Ebola virus, New Jersey officials said Saturday. The news comes as the number of infected in West Africa grew to more than 10,000.

The nurse, who had no symptoms when she landed at Newark Liberty International Airport but developed a fever afterward, will have additional tests to confirm that finding, the New Jersey Department of Health said in a statement. She was taken to University Hospital in Newark from the airport and will remain under mandatory quarantine for 21 days in accordance with a new policy announced Friday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.

The governors ordered quarantines for all people entering the country through Newark Liberty and John F. Kennedy International airports if they had direct contact with Ebola patients in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, even if they show no symptoms of infection upon arrival.

A hospital spokeswoman, Stacie Newton, said that the nurse was in one of four treatment areas, where she was in isolation.

The states’ new quarantine policy goes further than recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which calls for self-monitoring, but no isolation. The CDC, however, said the states had the right to impose such a policy.

Governments have broad powers to order quarantine when the public health is at stake, although individuals being quarantined also have a right to object and go to court to prove that they are not a threat, said Norman Siegel, a civil liberties lawyer in New York and the former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Also Saturday, the World Health Organization reported that there are more than 10,000 suspected or confirmed cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The report added that nearly 5,000 have died, amid concerns about a potential spread of the disease in Mali.

Fears rose about how many people may have been infected by a 2-year-old girl before she died Friday in Mali.

The child was taken by her grandmother from Guinea to the western Mali town of Kayes by bus, a journey of almost 700 miles. The child was symptomatic – and therefore infectious – for much of the journey, according to the WHO.

Malian authorities have traced 43 people who were in contact with the child, including 10 health care workers. But the long journey by public transport raises the possibility that some people who may have been infected will be difficult to trace.

Also at risk is Ivory Coast, with Ebola present in six of the eight Guinean and Liberian districts along its border.

Mauritania, which neighbors Mali, has closed its border as a precaution. But Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said his country would not close its borders despite the Ebola threat. He said the recent case showed it was impossible to completely insulate the country from the disease. “We will do everything we can to avoid panic,” he said.

The three worst hit countries – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – count 4,912 deaths.

Other countries where cases have been reported include the United States, Spain, Nigeria and Senegal.

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.