US Ebola patient under care as African situation is at risk

Red Cross says the viral outbreak needs a serious step-up in effort to be contained after already infecting at least 1,323 and killing 729 since March

Kent Brantly, first US patient who became infected with Ebola, landed on Saturday at a military airfield in Georgia and was transported to Emory University Hospital. Photo: Reuters
Kent Brantly, first US patient who became infected with Ebola, landed on Saturday at a military airfield in Georgia and was transported to Emory University Hospital. Photo: Reuters

New York/Atlanta: The first American patient with the deadly Ebola virus is under treatment in Atlanta, with a second on the way in days, even as a major aid group said the situation in Western Africa is at risk of spiralling out of control.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the viral outbreak, the worst in history, needs a serious step-up in effort to be contained after already infecting at least 1,323 and killing 729 since March, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The spread of the virus can only be halted with scaled-up support and coordinated action by all parties,’ Panu Saaristo, the federation’s emergency health coordinator, said on Saturday in a statement. “We cannot continue to turn a blind eye on what is happening in western Africa. Inaction will cause the further spread of this deadly virus across the borders of this remote region, making true our fears.”

Kent Brantly, a doctor with the North Carolina-based charity Samaritan’s Purse who became infected while working with Ebola patients in Liberia, landed on Saturday at a military airfield in Georgia and was transported to Emory University Hospital. Nancy Writebol, an aid worker who also was infected, is scheduled to be transported from Liberia to Emory within days, according SIM USA, the Christian charity she works for.

Wife’s statement

Amber Brantly, Kent Brantly’s wife, said she was able to speak with him shortly after his arrival.

“He is glad to be back in the US,” she said in a statement posted on Saturday on the Samaritan’s Purse website. “I am thankful to God for his safe transport and for giving him the strength to walk into the hospital. Please continue praying for Kent and Nancy—and please continue praying for the people of Liberia and those who continue to serve them.”

The aircraft being used to transport Brantly and Writebol is a specialized charter plane that contains a mobile medical isolation unit. At Emory, they’ll be treated in the hospital’s special isolation units for highly infection diseases. The Emory facility is one of only four set up in collaboration with the Atlanta-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention for such patients.

Liberia is one of three African countries where the deadly virus is raging in the worst outbreak ever recorded. The disease has killed 729 people since March, including at least 57 in the past week, according to WHO.

WHO announced a new, $100 million push to contain the outbreak on 31 July.

Little danger

There is little danger in having the Ebola patients in Atlanta, Bruce Ribner, an infectious disease specialist at Emory, said in a 1 August press conference.

Ebola isn’t spread by ‘‘some magical mechanism”, Ribner said in the briefing, adding that the hospital is well designed to handle such cases. The virus infects mainly through person-to-person contact, the spread enabled in Africa as family members provide hands-on care for their loved ones, global health officials have said.

The presidents of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea agreed at a 1 August emergency meeting to isolate the border region where the three countries meet, according to an e-mailed statement from Sierra Leone’s health ministry. Police and military will be sent to the area, it said. The leaders also pledged to give incentives to medical staff to persuade them to help fight the virus’s spread.

First US patients

CDC, which confirmed the cases are the first ever on US soil, is working with the hospital and transport company to make sure evacuation of the two patients goes safely, Barbara Reynolds, an agency spokeswoman, said on 1 August by telephone.

“We’re here to make sure the transportation process and the care here in the US ensures there’s no spread,” Reynolds said on Saturday. “It’s important to remember this is not an airborne virus, it requires close contact with body fluids. It’s minimal risk as long as the people caring for the patient use meticulous procedures.”

Palmer Holt, a spokesman for SIM USA, the missionary group that built and runs the Liberian hospital where the two infected US citizens worked, said that returning the patients to US could help them survive. They had been getting treatment in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, the aid group said.

“It’s basically Emory University versus a missionary hospital in Africa that just doesn’t have the kind of facilities that they have in the US,” Holt said.

Writebol’s condition was serious but stable, according to SIM’s website, while Brantly was able to walk into the Emory hospital under his own power, according to his wife’s statement.

Medical outlook

Medical care at Emory may take two to three weeks if all goes well, according to Ribner, speaking during the hospital briefing. It may be “prolonged” if patients suffer any kind of organ failure, he said.

There is no cure for Ebola. Patients are given fluids, blood transfusions and antibiotics to fight off infections that are related to the disease with the hope that their immune systems are strong enough to survive Ebola’s onslaught.

The plane carrying Brantly landed at Dobbins Air Reserve Base near Atlanta. Both patients will fly into that airfield, Department of Defence spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said at a 1 August briefing.

Faculty members and visitors to Emory, located in a hilly area of stately homes and winding streets, showed little sign of worry on Saturday about the arrival of the two Ebola patients.

Lisa Garvin, associate dean of chapel and religious life, said most of the concern is coming from her Facebook friends who live outside of Atlanta. Students seem proud that their school is fulfilling its health and education mission, Garvin said.

‘It’s cool’

“People think it’s cool that Emory’s helping solve a world crisis,” said Jeff Tate, who works in facilities and operations at Emory.

The Reverend Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church said he believes most Atlantans understand that Emory can provide safe care to the two victims.

“I think there are far more people in Atlanta who are proud that this is a place where these kinds of serious medical issues can be addressed,” Warnock said.

As US prepares to host leaders from about 50 African countries next week in Washington, President Barack Obama said the hosts are taking appropriate precautions to ensure Ebola isn’t transmitted to US via attendees.

Travellers to the summit from the three countries—Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone—will go through extra screening to make sure they’re healthy both before leaving home and after arriving in the US, he said. Bloomberg

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