Ebola is a highly contagious disease spread by contact with an infected person's bodily fluids. The infection continues to spread in West Africa. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of this writing, there have been 2,473 suspected and confirmed cases, 1,350 suspected deaths, and 1,460 laboratory-confirmed cases since the outbreak began in March.
Ebola virus disease (EVD), also known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, has a 90 percent fatality rate. It is one of the most virulent viral diseases known to humankind. Ebola causes fever, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, and internal bleeding. And there are still no drugs or vaccines approved to treat or prevent the illness. Currently, doctors can only treat symptoms.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between Aug. 17 and Aug. 18, 2014, a total of 221 new cases of Ebola virus disease (laboratory-confirmed, probable, and suspect cases) as well as 106 deaths were reported from Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.
American Healthcare Workers Are Discharged from Atlanta Hospital
Dr. Kent Brantly, from Texas, the Samaritan’s Purse doctor who contracted Ebola while caring for patients in Liberia, and aid worker Nancy Writebol have both been released from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after completing their three week long treatment and recovery from the deadly virus. Writebol was serving with SIM, an organization that worked closely with Samaritan’s Purse to help combat the outbreak.
Brantly and Writebol both received a dose of an experimental serum while still in Liberia. Brantly also received a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy who had survived Ebola under his care.
Emory University Hospital held a news conference at which Brantly appeared with his wife and the healthcare team from Emory. Brantly spoke briefly at the conference, thanking God, the entire team at Emory, and Samaritan’s Purse, for his recovery. Brantly said that “as grateful as we are today,” it is important to be mindful of those who are suffering from this dreaded disease in West Africa, and asked, “Please do not stop praying for the people of Liberia and West Africa.”
Brantly, who did not take questions from the media, said that he and his family, who were apart for a month, will be going away to reconnect, decompress, and continue to recover, but that he would be available at a later date to discuss his experience. Brantly said that Writebol, who was released from the hospital earlier this week, wished for privacy, but was very grateful for her recovery.
American Patients Pose No Risk to the Public
Dr. Bruce Ribner, medical director of the hospital's infectious disease unit, said at the conference that the hospital performed extensive blood and urine tests on both patients and consulted with the CDC before deciding the two missionaries were ready to be released. Neither pose any risk to the public, he said.
"After a rigorous course of treatment and testing, the Emory healthcare team has determined that both patients have recovered from the Ebola virus and can return to their families and community without concern for spreading this infection to others," Ribner said. "We are profoundly grateful for the opportunity to have applied our training, our care, and our experience to meet their needs. All of us who have worked with them have been impressed by their courage and determination."
Samaritan's Purse Offers Thanks
“Today I join all of our Samaritan’s Purse team around the world in giving thanks to God as we celebrate Dr. Kent Brantly’s recovery from Ebola and release from the hospital,” Samaritan’s Purse president Franklin Graham, said in a statement. “Over the past few weeks I have marveled at Dr. Brantly’s courageous spirit as he has fought this horrible virus with the help of the highly competent and caring staff at Emory University Hospital. His faithfulness to God and compassion for the people of Africa have been an example to us all.”
Graham continued, “I know that Dr. Brantly and his wonderful family would ask that you please remember and pray for those in Africa battling, treating, and suffering from Ebola. Those who have given up the comforts of home to serve the suffering and the less fortunate are in many ways just beginning this battle.”
Ebola Worries in the United States
Despite the good news about Brantly and Writebol, worries over Ebola spreading to the United States continue to mount. According to ABC News, the CDC reported that American hospitals and state labs have handled at least 68 Ebola scares over the last three weeks. Hospitals in 27 states alerted the CDC of the possible Ebola cases. Fifty-eight cases were considered false alarms, but blood samples for the remaining 10 were sent to the CDC for testing. Seven of the samples tested negative for the virus and results for the remaining three are pending.
The latest scare in the United States involves a patient at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Sacramento who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus, and who has been isolated in a negative pressure room while awaiting blood test results from the CDC. Dr. Stephen M. Parodi, infectious diseases specialist at Kaiser, said in a statement, “The safety of our members, patients, and staff is our highest priority. Our physicians and infectious disease experts are working closely with local and state public health agencies to monitor developments and share information."
News of the Kaiser patient follows closely on the heels of a report that a 30-year-old woman who came to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque after returning from Sierra Leone, is in isolation and awaiting test results from the CDC.
Recently, Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, Johns Hopkins Medicine in Maryland, and an undisclosed hospital in Ohio have also tested patients for Ebola. As of Aug. 13, 2014, none of these patients had the disease.
The CDC has urged healthcare providers to ask patients about their travel history to help identify potential Ebola cases, and hospitals all over the country are on alert for patients who have recently traveled to West Africa and show Ebola-like symptoms, such as fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. Earlier this month, the CDC issued extensive guidelines for hospitals on how to spot and treat Ebola patients.
Meanwhile, Nigeria reported that three healthcare workers and a fourth individual there were all recovering from Ebola, which they contracted from a Liberian-American airline passenger who landed in the city of Lagos in July.
Violence Erupts in Monrovia
In another development, in West Point, a densely populated, impoverished peninsula in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, where the government is struggling to contain the fast spread of Ebola, hundreds of residents clashed with security forces to protest the government’s armed blockade of the peninsula. The protests reportedly began when roads into and out of West Point were blocked by riot police and troops, and a coast guard boat patrolled the waters offshore. Soldiers opened fire and used teargas on crowds as they evacuated a state official and her family. Four residents are reported to have been injured in the clashes.
West Point residents reportedly also raided an Ebola screening center, accusing officials of bringing sick people from Monrovia into their neighborhood.
Shortage of Food and Other Supplies
To make matters worse, some companies, including airlines and shipping companies, have reportedly suspended services to the affected countries, causing supply shortages of fuel, food, and basic supplies. The WHO is working with the UN World Food Programme to ensure adequate food and supplies, and is calling on companies to make decisions "based on scientific evidence with regard to the transmission of Ebola virus."
There have also been reports of inadequate supplies of personal protective equipment and medical resources. In response, more than 20 leading medical companies are stepping up with critically needed items to facilitate a series of emergency shipments with logistical support from FedEx, according to the WHO.