Second Ebola Patient Heads to US; NYC Tests Possible Victim

Monday, 04 Aug 2014 09:47 PM

 

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The second American aid worker who contracted the Ebola virus in West Africa is expected to arrive in Atlanta on Tuesday in serious condition, while a New York hospital is testing a man with symptoms of the deadly disease.

Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan said on Monday it was testing a man who traveled to a West African nation where Ebola has been reported.

The man, who came into the emergency room on Monday morning with a high fever and a stomach ache, was in "good condition" and results of tests to find the cause of his symptoms were expected by Tuesday morning, hospital officials said at a news conference.

"Odds are it is not Ebola," said Dr. Jeremy Boal, the hospital's chief medical officer. Still, the patient was rushed into strict isolation within seven minutes of his arrival at the hospital.

"I want to stress there is absolutely no risk from ... being in the emergency room," said Boal, noting Ebola is not spread through casual contact.

The New York patient added to concerns about the often-fatal disease after two American healthcare workers contracted the virus in West Africa where they had traveled to help fight the disease that has killed nearly 900 people since February.

Missionary Nancy Writebol, 59, will fly on a medical aircraft from Liberia to be treated by infectious disease specialists in a special isolation ward at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, according to SIM USA, a Christian missionary group.

Emory's specialists on Saturday began treating 33-year-old U.S. doctor Kent Brantly, who also returned home after being stricken with Ebola during the emergency response to the worst outbreak on record of the hemorrhagic virus.

Writebol and Brantly are believed to be the first Ebola patients ever treated in the United States. They served in Monrovia on a joint team run by Christian aid groups SIM USA and Samaritan's Purse and are returning separately because the plane equipped to transport them can carry only one patient at a time.

Writebol was in serious condition, SIM USA said on Monday.

"Her husband told me Sunday her appetite has improved and she requested one of her favorite dishes - Liberian potato soup - and coffee," Bruce Johnson, president of SIM USA, said in a statement.

Brantly's wife, who had returned home to Texas before he became ill, said in a statement late on Sunday that she had seen her husband and that he was in good spirits.

"He thanked everyone for their prayers and asked for continued prayer for Nancy Writebol's safe return and full recovery," Amber Brantly said.

SIM said a missionary group of two adults and six children it evacuated from Liberia due to the outbreak arrived on Sunday in Charlotte, North Carolina, where they will be housed temporarily on the organization's campus. None have shown symptoms of infection, the group said.

Both Brantly and Writebol saw their conditions improve by varying degrees in Liberia after they received an experimental drug previously tested only on monkeys, said a representative for Samaritan's Purse.

The drug was developed by San Diego-based private biotech firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. Shares for another company, Canada-based Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp, one of a few to have developed Ebola treatments advanced enough to be tested on people, slumped after media reports about the Mapp drug.

There is no proven cure for Ebola, and the death rate in the current epidemic is about 60 percent, experts say.

Standard treatment for the disease is to provide supportive care. Doctors at Emory will try to maintain blood pressure and support breathing of the workers, with a respirator if needed, or provide dialysis if they experience kidney failure, as some Ebola sufferers do.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said there were no plans to stop flights to the United States from countries grappling with Ebola. Screening is being done to watch for travelers exhibiting symptoms, including some participants at a U.S.-hosted Africa summit in Washington.

Brantly and Writebol each had lived in Liberia since last year with their spouses and, in Brantly's case, two young children.

Brantly joined the Samaritan's Purse post-residency program after completing his residency in family medicine at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, and then became part of the organization's medical team helping to fight Ebola.

Writebol, a mother of two from Charlotte, is a longtime missionary who had been working for SIM USA as a hygienist who decontaminated the protective suits worn by medical workers inside the isolation ward at a treatment center in Monrovia.

Federal agents at U.S. airports are watching travelers from Africa for flu-like symptoms that could be tied to the recent Ebola outbreak as delegations from some 50 countries arrive in the nation's capital for a leadership summit this week.

Border Patrol agents at Washington's Dulles International and New York's JFK airports in particular have been told to ask travelers about possible exposure to the virus and to be on the lookout for anyone with a fever, headache, achiness, sore throat, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, rash, or red eyes.

Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, which will receive several African heads of state, is screening passengers too, while U.S. Secret Service agents in charge of security for the three-day summit have been briefed on what to look for and how to respond, officials said Monday.

If a passenger is suspected of carrying the deadly virus, they would be quarantined immediately and evaluated by medical personnel, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provided the additional training to local airports.

"There is always the possibility that someone with an infectious disease can enter the United States," CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said Monday. "The public health concern is whether it would spread, and, if so, how quickly.'"

The Ebola virus causes a hemorrhagic fever that has stricken more than 1,600 people, killing at least 887 of them in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. The virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids, such as blood or urine, unlike an airborne virus like influenza or the common cold. A person exposed to the virus can take up to 21 days to exhibit any symptoms, making it possible for infected travelers to enter the United States without knowing they have it.

While the CDC says it is not screening passengers boarding planes at African airports — the job of local authorities there — the center said it has encouraged vulnerable countries to follow certain precautions. Outbound passengers in the countries experiencing Ebola are being screened for fevers and with health questionnaires, Reynolds said.

Health officials say the threat to Americans remains relatively small, even with the uptick in travel this week between Africa and the United States. In the past decade, five people have entered the United States known to have a viral hemorrhagic fever, including a case last March of a Minnesota man diagnosed with Lassa fever after traveling to West Africa.

Reynolds said in all five instances, U.S. officials were able to contain the illness.

A vaccine against Ebola has been successfully tested with monkeys, and there is hope it could become available as early as next July, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health told "CBS This Morning" on Monday.
 

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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