Aug. 3 (Bloomberg) -- The top U.S. health official said today the American doctor being treated for the deadly Ebola virus in Atlanta “seems to be improving,” and downplayed fears the disease could take hold in the U.S.
The patient has been identified as Kent Brantly, who became infected while working with the North Carolina-based charity Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia. Brantly arrived in Atlanta yesterday to be treated in an isolation unit at Emory University Hospital. He is expected to be followed within days by Nancy Writebol, an aid worker also infected in Liberia.
Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said today on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program that he was hopeful on Brantly’s recovery but “can’t predict the future for individual patients.” He also said a widespread outbreak among Americans is unlikely because, compared to Africa, the U.S. has better infection controls in hospitals and in burial procedures.
“Could we have another person here, could we have a case or two? Not impossible,” Frieden said. “We say in medicine never say never. But we know how to stop it here.”
Medical care of the two U.S. citizens at Emory may take two to three weeks if all goes well, Bruce Ribner, an infectious disease specialist at Emory, said in an Aug. 1 news conference. There is no cure for Ebola. Patients get fluids, blood transfusions and antibiotics to fight off infections with the hope their immune systems can fight off Ebola’s onslaught.
Frieden’s statements in the U.S. come a day after the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the viral outbreak in West Africa, the worst in history, needs a serious increase in effort to be contained. The outbreak has infected at least 1,440 and killed 826 since March, the Geneva-based World Health Organization said in an update listed on its website today.
“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 yesterday in a statement. “We cannot continue to turn a blind eye on what is happening in western Africa.”
Liberia, where the two Americans were infected, is one of three African countries where the deadly virus is raging. The WHO announced a new, $100 million push to contain the outbreak on July 31.
The presidents of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea agreed at an Aug. 1 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.
Frieden, as part of a tour of Sunday morning talk shows, said on CBS it’s possible an international visitor with Ebola could travel into the U.S. without anyone being aware.
“If they go to a hospital and that hospital doesn’t recognize it’s Ebola,” he said, “there could be additional cases or their family members could have cases. That’s all possible.”
The most important thing that can be done with the outbreak is “to stop it at the source in Africa,” he said. “That’s going to protect them and protect us.”
The two patients being returned to the U.S. from Liberia were working there at an Ebola center. Amber Brantly, Kent Brantly’s wife, said yesterday she was able to speak with him shortly after his arrival.
“He is glad to be back in the U.S.,” she said in a statement posted 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.”
Nancy Writebol, the second patient expected to be treated in Atlanta, and her husband, David. were missionaries for Eustis, Florida-based Rafiki Foundation for 14 years and left around 2012, when they took their current post with SIM. While with Rafiki they spent time in Ecuador and in Zambia, running an orphanage and school, Karen Elliott, Rafiki Foundation’s executive director said today.
Elliott said she’s been staying in touch with David Writebol by e-mail but did not have any first-hand updates of Nancy’s condition. Rafiki is a Christian-based mission and aid group currently working in 10 African countries, Elliott said.
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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for such patients.
The CDC, which confirmed the cases are the first ever on U.S. 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 Aug. 1 by telephone.
“We’re here to make sure the transportation process and the care here in the U.S. ensures there’s no spread,” Reynolds said yesterday. “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 U.S. citizens worked, said that returning the patients to the U.S. could help them survive. They had been getting treatment in in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, the aid group said.
The plane carrying Brantly landed at Dobbins Air Reserve Base near Atlanta. Both patients will fly into that airfield, Department of Defense spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said at an Aug. 1 briefing.
Faculty members and visitors to Emory, located in a hilly area of stately homes and winding streets, showed little sign of worry yesterday 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.
“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 the U.S. 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 the U.S. via attendees.
Travelers 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 U.S., he said.