Saturday, November 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Ebola deaths top 700 in West Africa

U.S. warns on travel to three nations.

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone - The death toll from the worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history surpassed 700 in West Africa as security forces went house-to-house in Sierra Leone's capital Thursday looking for patients and others exposed to the disease.

The United States warned against travel to the three infected countries - Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia - and Sierra Leone's soccer team was blocked from boarding a plane in Nairobi, Kenya, that was to take them to the Seychelles for a game Saturday. Kenya airport authorities said Seychelles immigration told them to prevent the team from traveling.

Almost half of the 57 new deaths reported by the World Health Organization were in Liberia, where two Americans - Kent Brantly, a doctor from Texas, and Nancy Writebol, a North Carolina-based missionary - are sick with Ebola.

At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. is looking into options to bring them back to the United States. Officials at Atlanta's Emory University Hospital said they expected one of the Americans to be transferred there "within the next several days." The hospital declined to identify which aid worker, citing privacy laws.

Writebol is in stable but serious condition and is receiving an experimental treatment, according to a statement released by SIM, a Christian mission organization.

"There was only enough [of the experimental serum] for one person. Dr. Brantly asked that it be given to Nancy Writebol," said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, another aid organization that has been working in Liberia.

Brantly, who works for the aid group, did receive a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy who had survived Ebola because of the doctor's care, Graham said in a statement.

Giving a survivor's blood to a patient might be aimed at seeing whether any antibodies the survivor made to the virus could help someone else fight the infection. This approach has been tried in previous Ebola outbreaks with mixed results.

There is currently no licensed drug or vaccine for Ebola, and patients can only be given supportive care to keep them hydrated. There are a handful of experimental drug and vaccine candidates, and while some have had promising results in animals, none has been rigorously tested in humans.

The disease has continued to spread through bodily fluids as sick people remain in the community and are cared for by relatives without protective gear. People have become ill from touching sick family members and in some cases from soiled linens.

In Sierra Leone, which borders Liberia to the northwest, authorities are vowing to quarantine at home all those who have refused to go to isolation centers.

Rosa Crestani, Ebola emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, said it is "crucial" to gain the trust of communities that have been afraid to let health workers in and to deploy more medical staff.

"The declaration of a state of emergency in Sierra Leone shows a recognition of the gravity of the situation, but we do not yet know what this will mean on the ground. What we can say is that it will be difficult to implement due to the fact that the cases are dispersed over such a large area, and that we currently do not have a clear picture of where all the hotspots are," she said.

Liberia's president on Wednesday also instituted measures aimed at halting the spread of Ebola, including shutting down schools and ordering most public servants to stay home from work.

"It could be helpful for the government to have powers to isolate and quarantine people and it's certainly better than what's been done so far," said Heinz Feldmann, chief of virology at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "Whether it works, we will have to wait and see."

Unni Krishnan, head of disaster preparedness and response for the aid group Plan International, said closing schools could help as they bring large numbers of children together, which can amplify infection rates.

"Door-to-door searches are not going to be easy," he said. "What will help is encouraging people to come forward when they see symptoms and seek medical help."

The U.S. Peace Corps also was evacuating hundreds of its volunteers in the affected countries.

The World Health Organization is launching a $100 million response plan calling for the deployment of several hundred additional health workers to help the strained resources in West Africa.

Clarence Roy-Macaulay and Krista Larson Associated Press
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