US doctor stricken with Ebola said to be improving

Second doctor infected with disease due to depart Liberia on Monday night

A Liberian nurse in protective clothing being sprayed with disinfectant after preparing several bodies of victims of Ebola for burial in the isolation unit of the ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. Photograph: Ahmed Jallanzo/EPA/

A Liberian nurse in protective clothing being sprayed with disinfectant after preparing several bodies of victims of Ebola for burial in the isolation unit of the ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. Photograph: Ahmed Jallanzo/EPA/

Sun, Aug 3, 2014, 20:05

An American doctor stricken with the deadly Ebola virus while in Liberia and brought to the US for treatment in a special isolation ward is improving, the top US health official said today.

Dr Kent Brantly was able to walk, with help, from an ambulance after he was flown yesterday to Atlanta, where he is being treated by infectious disease specialists at Emory University Hospital.

“It’s encouraging that he seems to be improving - that’s really important - and we’re hoping he’ll continue to improve,” said Dr Tom Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Dr Frieden told CBS’s Face the Nation it was too soon to predict whether Dr Brantly would survive, and a hospital spokesman said later that Emory did not expect to provide any updates on the doctor’s condition today.

Dr Brantly is a 33-year-old father of two young children who works for the North Carolina-based Christian organisation Samaritan’s Purse. He was in Liberia responding to the worst Ebola outbreak on record when he contracted the disease.

Since February, more than 700 people in West Africa have died from Ebola, a hemorrhagic virus with a death rate of up to 90 percent of those infected. The fatality rate in the current epidemic is about 60 per cent.

A second US aid worker who contracted Ebola alongside Dr Brantly, missionary Nancy Writebol, will be brought to the United States on a later flight as the medical aircraft is equipped to carry only one patient at a time.

Standard treatment for the disease is to provide supportive care. In Atlanta, doctors will try to maintain blood pressure and support breathing, with a respirator if needed, or provide dialysis if patients experience kidney failure, as some Ebola sufferers do.

Second missionary expected soon

Ms Writebol, a 59-year-old mother of two who worked to decontaminate those entering and leaving an Ebola isolation unit in Liberia, was due to depart for the US overnight on Monday, Liberia’s information minister said.

Ms Writebol’s husband, David, who had been living and working in Liberia with his wife, was expected to travel home separately in the next few days, their missionary organisation, SIM USA, said in a statement.

Despite public concern over bringing in Ebola patients, the CDC’s Dr Frieden said the US may see a few isolated cases in people who have been travelling but did not expect widespread Ebola in the country.

The facility at Emory chosen to treat the two infected Americans was set up with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is one of four in the country with the ability to handle such cases.

The Americans will be treated primarily by four infectious disease physicians, and will be able to see relatives through a plate-glass window and speak to them by phone or intercom.

Dr Frieden said it was unlikely that Dr Brantly’s wife and children, who left Liberia before he began showing symptoms, had contracted the disease because people who are exposed to Ebola but not yet sick cannot infect others.

The CDC has said it is not aware of any Ebola patient having been treated in the United States previously. Five people entered the country in the past decade with either Lassa Fever or Marburg, both hemorrhagic fevers similar to Ebola.

President Barack Obama said last week some participants at an Africa summit in Washington this week would be screened for Ebola exposure. Dr Frieden said today there was no reason to cancel the event.

“There are 50 million travelers from around the world that come to the US each year that are essential to our economy, to our families, to our communities. We’re not going to hermetically seal this country,” he told Fox News Sunday.

The US Food and Drug Administration has said the agency stands ready to cooperate with companies and investigators working with patients in dire need of treatment.

A senior official said the agency would consider providing treatments under special emergency new drug applications, if benefits outweighed potential risks.

Reuters