TIME Infectious Disease

Remember MERS? Scientists Want Treatments to be Ready, Unlike Ebola

MERS is another disease with no cure or vaccine--can scientists get ahead while there's still time?

Do you remember MERS? That’s right, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus infection (MERS or MERS Co-V). It may seem like a disease of the past now, but there was a time only months ago that we had similar if not equally overreactive fears about whether the disease–which was spreading primarily in the Middle East–could spread through the United States.

In fact, there were a few cases of MERS in the U.S. in May. The CDC told Americans that: “In this interconnected world we live in, we expected MERS Co-V to make it to the United States.” And though the virus is a very different disease from Ebola, it similarly transmits between humans only via direct contact–making health care workers the most at risk. And like Ebola, there is no vaccine or cure.

Right before MERS slipped off our collective radars only to be replaced by the deadly Ebola virus one continent over, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in July that it had received reports of 837 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV including at least 291 related deaths.

So, why is no one talking about MERS right now? Cases and deaths appear to have leveled off for now, which is leading researchers–who are very much still paying attention to the disease–to believe that perhaps it’s seasonal, like the flu. “It appears we are dropping out of MERS season,” says study author Darryl Falzarano, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). “It could be happening again in the spring. It’s possible that MERS could be more chronic, and Ebola is more sporadic.”

In a recent paper, a team of National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists, including Falzarano, report that they’ve concluded that marmosets are the best animal model for testing potential treatments for MERS. The team has tested its fair share of critters, starting with small rodents like hamsters and ferrets, and eventually landing on another type of money called the rhesus macaques.

The trouble with finding the right animal is that viruses react differently depending on the host, and sometimes the cells won’t accept the virus, making testing useless. Though the rhesus macaques were able to contract MERS, their symptoms only grew to that of a humans’ mild to moderate symptoms, which is not as critical for testing as severe.

Now, the finding–published in the journal PLoS Pathogens– is by no means groundbreaking. But it highlights just how difficult and time consuming it can be to develop a drug or vaccine for an uncommon virus. One of the primary topics of debate during the current Ebola outbreak is whether experimental drugs should be used. The two now-recovered American Ebola patients received an experimental drug called ZMapp, and WHO is in the process of developing guidelines for how such treatments should be used. But the inconvenient truth is that even if a drug for Ebola is available, and most manufacturers only have limited amounts, we really have no idea whether they could work. It might just be too late for this outbreak.

But what about MERS?

“You cannot expect magic bullet types of cures off the bat,” says study author Vincent Munster, chief of the Virus Ecology Unit at NIAID. “The viruses we work with are really niche viruses, so there’s not a lot of interest from pharmaceutical companies. But I think this outbreak could propel some recent developments and vaccines.”

There are currently drugs and vaccines in the pipeline undergoing testing for MERS, and like in the current outbreak, they could be considered for last-ditch efforts. Scientists are not just studying how to develop methods to treat MERS, but they’re also trying to determine how it transmits from what appear to be camels, to people, plus whether or not there’s potential it could become airborne. The hope is that as our world continues to become more and more connected, there will emerge an incentive to develop and produce treatments for deadly diseases that we still don’t fully understand.

Thankfully, it appears we have some time when it comes to MERS–at least until spring.

TIME Infectious Disease

How Some People Are Surviving the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History

Kent Brantly, who contracted the deadly Ebola virus, stands with wife Amber during a press conference at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Aug. 21, 2014.
Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted the deadly Ebola virus, stands with wife Amber during a press conference at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Aug. 21, 2014 Tami Chappell—Reuters

Two Americans who contracted Ebola in Liberia have been declared virus-free

Ebola is a nasty virus, but contracting it isn’t always a death sentence.

The current outbreak is immense — the worst in recorded history — and aid organizations in West Africa are stressing the need for more people on the ground, not to mention additional supplies and space.

But in a rare instance of positive news on Thursday, it was announced that two Americans who became infected in Liberia and were evacuated to an Atlanta hospital for treatment had been discharged and are now virus-free. One of them, Dr. Kent Brantly, appeared healthy while speaking at a press conference.

Ebola’s fatality rate in the current outbreak is slightly over 50% — with 2,473 cases and 1,350 deaths — and previous outbreaks have hovered up to 90%. So it may seem hard to understand how someone can survive the disease, which attacks people’s organs and thins blood vessels. But the physicians at Emory University Hospital, where the American patients were treated, tell TIME that even though Ebola’s death rates are frankly terrifying, it’s key to remember that those are in countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — with comparatively weak health care systems. Multiple patients are kept together in a single space and health care workers have neither enough protective equipment nor resources to provide the supportive care that patients need — like isolation, clean linens and replenished fluids and electrolytes.

Still, some people in the U.S. and elsewhere manage to survive the deadly disease.

There’s no cure or treatment for Ebola, but some drugs are being tested. That includes ZMapp, which Brantly and Nancy Writebol received in Liberia. But, their physicians say since they were the first human patients to get the drug, there’s no way to tell what impact it had.

Experimental drugs aside, what doctors can provide Ebola patients is supportive care, like monitoring their heart rate, blood pressure and breathing, as well as replenishing fluids, which can help keep the body as stable as possible so it can fight the virus. (A lack of protective equipment and high demand make this type of care difficult in some of the hardest-hit areas of the outbreak.)

When a person is infected with a virus, their immune system starts to create antibodies to attack it. If the person is strong enough and their body sustains that strength long enough, their immune system can eventually neutralize and clear the virus on its own. Ebola can be detected through blood tests, the results of which only take a day or two to get back. The doctors at Emory said they were able to determine through both blood- and urine-diagnostic tests — and with the help of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — that the virus was no longer in the patients’ systems and that they were both symptomless for at least two or three days.

Now there are questions about whether they are carriers, or if they could relapse, or whether they are still infectious. The doctors have confidently said no to all those questions. “The general experience is that once they have survived — especially this far into the disease — they are not contagious, they don’t relapse and they don’t spread the virus to anyone else,” Dr. Bruce Ribner of Emory University Hospital said in the press conference. “We have no evidence of a carrier state for this disease … We anticipate [they will have] immunity to this virus.”

Thanks largely to the quality of care they received, Brantly and Writebol are alive, giving hope that the virus can be conquered in patients with pointed care. But that type of assistance isn’t always available in the areas where Ebola is spreading fastest. “Please, do not stop praying for the people of Liberia and West Africa,” Brantly said on Thursday, in a plea for the public not to forget those who won’t have a recovery similar to his.

TIME Infectious Disease

1,400 Are Dead From Ebola and We Need Help, Says Doctors Without Borders President

Workers prepare the new Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Ebola treatment center on Aug. 17, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia. Tents at the center were provided by UNICEF.
Workers prepare the new Doctors Without Borders, Ebola treatment center on Aug. 17, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia. Tents at the center were provided by UNICEF. John Moore—Getty Images

The epidemic won't be contained without more treatment centers, coordinated action, logistical assets and health workers 

Entire families are being wiped out. Health workers are dying by the dozens. The Ebola outbreak raging in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone has already killed more people than any other in history, and it continues to spread unabated.

And the death toll is being exacerbated by an emergency unfolding within an emergency.

People are also dying from easily preventable and treatable diseases like malaria and diarrhea because fear of contamination has closed medical facilities, leading to the effective collapse of health systems. While I was in Liberia last week, six pregnant women lost their babies over the course of a single day for lack of a hospital to admit them and manage their complications.

Over the past two weeks, there have been some welcome signs but not enough action: the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” and announced additional funds to fight the disease; the World Bank announced a $200 million emergency fund; and the UN Secretary General appointed a special envoy for Ebola.

But 1,350 lives have already been lost. To prevent more deaths, these funding and political initiatives must be translated into immediate, effective action on the ground.

We need medical and emergency relief workers to trace those who may be infected, to educate people about protection measures and to work in treatment centers. Many more people are needed in the field, right now.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical teams have treated more than 900 patients in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. We have 1,086 staff operating in these countries and we have just opened a 120-bed treatment center in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, making it by far the largest Ebola center in history. But it is already overwhelmed with patients and we simply do not have additional response capacity. Others must enter the breach.

In Kailahun, Sierra Leone, 2,000 people who came into contact with Ebola patients must be urgently followed up. But we have only been able to trace about 200 of them.

Health promotion campaigns and body collections are stalled for lack of vehicles or fuel. Epidemiologists are unable to work because of a lack of logistical support. And pervasive fears among communities that had never encountered Ebola have provoked riots against health workers.

The epidemic will not be contained without a massive deployment on the ground. WHO in particular must step up to the challenge. And governments with the necessary medical and logistical resources must go beyond funding pledges and immediately dispatch infectious disease experts and disaster relief assets to the region.

Additional resources are needed to properly map the epidemic, implement efficient general hygiene measures in all medical and public places, run safe treatment centers, trace suspected cases, train health workers, set up functioning alert and referral systems and, crucially, spread accurate information about how people can protect themselves from infection.

Equally important is fighting fear. Quarantines and curfews will only breed more of it. People need to have access to information, otherwise distrust of health workers will only increase and provoke further violence. Communities and governments need to work together to control the epidemic and care for the sick.

Some measure of humanity must also be restored in the fight against Ebola.

As doctors, we have been forced to provide little more than palliative care because of the sheer number of infected people and lack of an available cure. The extreme measures needed to protect health workers, including wearing stifling protective suits, also means we cannot remain bedside with patients to ease their suffering, or allow family members to do so. In their final hours, many people are dying alone.

While we try to find creative solutions to enable families to communicate with their sick relatives, they should at minimum be supported to participate safely in the burials of loved ones. This would also help rebuild trust between communities and those trying to contain the epidemic.

At the same time, additional support is needed to prevent health systems in Liberia and Sierra Leone from further collapse. After years of civil war, these countries already struggle to meet the basic health needs of their people, let alone cope with a public health emergency of this magnitude. Sierra Leone and Liberia, for instance, have just 0.2 and 0.1 doctors per 10,000 people, respectively (a rate 240 times less than in the United States).

Last week, all of Monrovia’s hospitals were at one point closed. There is no surgical care available in the entire country right now. Pregnant women cannot receive emergency C-sections. Health facilities must be re-opened or established to treat common illnesses. We will otherwise face a second wave of this health catastrophe.

Slowing and then halting this outbreak requires much more than money and statements. The only way to contain the epidemic is to increase the response capacity in affected areas, not by closing borders and suspending air travel.

Meaningful and coordinated action is needed on the ground today if we don’t want to be reduced to counting the dead for many weeks to come, whether from Ebola or other far less sinister diseases.

Dr. Joanne Liu is the international president of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

TIME Infectious Disease

Americans With Ebola Discharged From Atlanta Hospital

Dr. Kent Brantly seen working at an Ebola isolation ward at a mission hospital outside of Monrovia, Liberia.
Dr. Kent Brantly seen working at an Ebola isolation ward at a mission hospital outside of Monrovia, Liberia. Getty Images

Both patients are virus-free

Updated 12:10 p.m.

Two Americans who contracted Ebola while on an aid trip in West Africa have been discharged from Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital, officials said Thursday. Dr. Kent Brantly was released Thursday, while Nancy Writebol was released Tuesday, though her discharge wasn’t publicly known until now.

Dr. Bruce Ribner, an infectious disease specialist at Emory who was leading the patients’ care, said his team determined in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Atlanta’s Health Department that the patients are virus-free and can return home with no public health concerns. Ribner also defended the choice to bring the two Ebola-stricken Americans to Emory for treatment.

“It was the right decision to bring these patients back to Emory to treat them,” Ribner said in a press conference Thursday. “What we learn from them will help advance the world’s understanding of how to treat Ebola virus infection, and help to improve survival in parts of the world where patients with Ebola are treated.”

Brantly, the more public of the two American Ebola patients, gave a public statement thanking both his organization Samaritan’s Purse and the medical team at Emory. The smiling doctor looked well, and thanked God multiple times for his recovery.

“Today is a miraculous day. I am thrilled to be alive, to be well, and to be reunited with my family,” he said. “[In Liberia] I prayed that in my life or in my death, that [God] would be glorified. I did not know then, but have learned since that there were thousands, maybe millions of people around the world praying for me that week . . . I cannot thank you enough for your prayers and your support . . . I serve a faithful God who answers prayers. God saved my life.”

Writebol, the other American Ebola patient, asked for privacy and requested the hospital not give details about her recovery, which is why her discharge remained private. She did, however, ask Dr. Brantly to extend her thanks. “As she walked out of her isolation room, all she could say was, to God be the glory,” said Brantly. Both Writebol and Brantly said they will be spending time alone with their families for some time.

 

The pair were brought to Emory as the hospital has an infectious disease unit specially equipped for treating serious communicable diseases. There is no vaccine or cure for Ebola, though the patients did receive a drug still in early stages of development. Dr. Ribner added that since the patients were the first humans to ever receive the drug, it is still unclear how it played a role in their recovery.

The team of doctors treating the patients previously told TIME that they hope what they learn from treating the patients can shed insight into the disease that can be shared with other physicians fighting Ebola, the latest global outbreak of which has claimed at least 1,350 lives, according to the latest World Health Organization numbers.

“We are mindful of all of those in West Africa that are still fighting for their lives against this threat, and those who are carrying for them, putting their own lives in danger,” said Dr. Ribner. The Emory medical team will be releasing guidelines for physicians in West Africa to provide insight into what worked during the Americans’ treatment.

TIME Infectious Disease

American Doctor Who Had Ebola Has Recovered

Dr. Kent Brantly seen working at an Ebola isolation ward at a mission hospital outside of Monrovia, Liberia.
Dr. Kent Brantly seen working at an Ebola isolation ward at a mission hospital outside of Monrovia, Liberia. Getty Images

Set to be discharged on Thursday

(ATLANTA) — At least one of the two American aid workers who were infected with the Ebola virus was to be discharged Thursday from an Atlanta hospital, a spokeswoman for the aid group he was working for said.

Meanwhile, Emory University Hospital planned to hold a news conference Thursday morning to discuss both patients’ discharge.

Alison Geist, a spokeswoman for Samaritan’s Purse, told The Associated Press she did not know the exact time Dr. Kent Brantly would be released but confirmed it would happen Thursday.

Meanwhile, Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, said in a statement that Brantly has recovered.

“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,” Graham’s statement said.

Brantly and Nancy Writebol were flown out of the west African nation of Liberia earlier this month and have been getting treatment for the deadly disease in an isolation unit at the hospital. The two were infected while working at a missionary clinic outside Liberia’s capital.

The Ebola outbreak has killed 1,350 people and counting across West Africa.

Ebola is only spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of sick people experiencing symptoms.

TIME Infectious Disease

Ebola Treatment May Emerge From Drug For Another Virus

Ebola and Marburg belong to the filovirus family, and encouraging results from a gene-based therapy against Marburg could jump-start a similar treatment for Ebola

With the latest outbreak of Ebola in western African claiming more than 1,200 lives since March, any advances on the treatment front are welcome—even if they come from studies of a related virus.

Thomas Geisbert, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, is getting more attention than he expected for his work on a promising therapy for a virus called Marburg because of its potential application against Ebola. In the journal Science Translational Medicine, Geisbert, who spent two decades at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases working on treatments for emerging and lethal pathogens, reports that delivering bits of RNA encased in a protein to monkeys infected with the nastiest Marburg strain can save their lives. While all of the 16 animals treated with the experimental treatment survived, none of the animals who weren’t treated did.

MORE: We’re Getting Closer to Vaccines and Drugs for Ebola

In 2010, he and his colleagues published equally promising results using the same technique against Ebola Zaire, the same strain responsible for the deaths in western Africa. In that study, however, the animals were treated within an hour of being infected with a highly lethal dose. The animals survived, so Geisbert is eager to test whether delaying treatment longer, up to several days after infection, will also protect patients, just as it did with the monkeys in the current study. Having such a window is critical because in reality, people may not even know they have been infected until they experience symptoms like fever or headaches.

“This is the first study showing that we can treat [filovirus infections] when we first start seeing signs of illness,” he says. “I am very confident that the same will hold true with Ebola. We demonstrated in 2010 that the same strategy works against Ebola Zaire and I think we certainly can optimize the strategy to perhaps do even better.” The animals in the study were dosed with a much higher amount of virus than people would generally see, so Geisbert believes that if it’s possible to extend protection against Ebola, it would buy up to a week of time in which people could be successfully treated. What’s making Geisbert so optimistic is the fact that the technique involves blocking the virus’ ability to reproduce, unlike the therapy that two American health workers received, which relies on antibodies that stick to the virus and incapacitate it before it can infect healthy cells.

MORE: Containing Ebola Is Extremely Labor Intensive, Former CDC Researcher Says

Tekmira, a Canadian biotech company, has begun early human trials testing the safety of the Ebola version of the therapy. While the Food and Drug Administration requires human trials for all new drugs and vaccines, for so-called exotic viruses like Ebola and Marburg, for which intentionally infecting volunteers wouldn’t be ethical because of their lethality, the agency makes an exception. It accepts tests involving animals that replicate the human course of disease, and a trial of the drug’s safety in uninfected, healthy human volunteers. The FDA had put a hold on the company’s application for approval, pending more confirmation that the product was safe to study in healthy people in escalating doses, but that in August the agency changed that to a partial hold. That makes it possible for any person, or country, that requests the treatment to receive it under emergency conditions.

“There is a lot of pressure to move studies [on Ebola] to the forefront and do them sooner rather than later,” says Geisbert. And now there’s more evidence that doing so could potentially save more lives.

MORE: Inside the CDC’s Emergency Operations Center Tackling Ebola

 

TIME Infectious Disease

4 Injured in Violent Clashes as Liberians Storm Ebola Barricades

Liberia Battles Spreading Ebola Epidemic
A Liberian Army soldier, part of the Ebola Task Force, pushes back local residents while enforcing a quarantine on the West Point slum on August 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. John Moore—Getty Images

The clashes mark a deepening sense of mistrust at official responses to contain the Ebola outbreak

At least four people were injured in clashes with Liberian soldiers and police after the government laid barbed wire barricades around a densely populated slum in an attempt to contain the spread of Ebola.

Young men surged towards the barricades and hurled stones at troops, who responded by firing live rounds of ammunition, the New York Times reports. Agence France-Presse reports that at least four people were injured in the skirmish.

The unrest highlights a deepening sense of mistrust among residents of West Point, a district that government officials designated as a quarantine zone on Wednesday morning. Tensions flared in the area earlier in the week as the opening of an Ebola treatment clinic in a local school fueled fears that health officials were bringing in infected patients from other parts of the city. The clinic was ransacked on Saturday, enabling several quarantined patients to escape.

The death toll from suspected and confirmed cases of Ebola across west Africa climbed to 1,350 people, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

[NYT]

TIME ebola

Clashes in Liberia Slum Sealed Off to Halt Ebola

A Liberian Army soldier, part of the Ebola Task Force, beats a local resident while enforcing a quarantine on the West Point slum on Aug. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia.
A Liberian Army soldier, part of the Ebola Task Force, beats a local resident while enforcing a quarantine on the West Point slum on Aug. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. John Moore—Getty Images

Hundreds of residents of the West Point slum in Monrovia clashed with security forces

(MONROVIA, Liberia) — Hundreds of residents of a seaside slum in Liberia’s capital clashed with security forces Wednesday to protest an armed blockade of the peninsula that is their neighborhood as part of the government’s desperate efforts to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Protests began in the morning when roads into and out of West Point were blocked by riot police and troops and a coast guard boat patrolled the waters offshore.

When the local government representative, who had not slept at home, returned to get her family out, hundreds of people surrounded her house until police and soldiers packed her and her family into a car and hustled them away. Security forces fired into the air to disperse the crowd, and residents threw stones or whatever was at hand at them. At least one person was injured.

Deputy Police Chief Abraham Kromah said later Wednesday that forces managed to restore order in the area. He said the police were investigating whether any shots had been fired.

Fear and tension have been building in Monrovia for days, and West Point has been one of the flash points. West Point residents raided an Ebola screening center over the weekend, accusing officials of bringing sick people from all over Monrovia into their neighborhood. The move to seal off the densely populated, impoverished peninsula shows that the government is struggling to contain a deadly outbreak that is spreading faster in Liberia than anywhere else.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered West Point sealed off and imposed a nationwide curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“We have been unable to control the spread” of Ebola, Sirleaf said in an address to the nation Tuesday night. She blamed the rising case toll on denial, defiance of authorities and cultural burial practices, in which bodies are handled. But many feel the government has not done enough to protect them from the spread of Ebola.

Family members of West Point district commissioner Miata Flowers flee the slum while being escorted by the Ebola Task Force on Aug. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia.
Family members of West Point district commissioner Miata Flowers flee the slum while being escorted by the Ebola Task Force on Aug. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. John Moore—Getty Images

The Ebola outbreak, which according to the World Health Organization began in December, has killed at least 1,229 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

On Wednesday, riot police and soldiers created roadblocks out of piles of scrap wood and barbed wire to prevent anyone from entering or leaving West Point, which occupies a half-mile-long (kilometer-long) peninsula where the Mesurado River meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Few roads go into the area and a major road runs along the base of the point, serving as a barrier between the neighborhood and the rest of Monrovia. Ferries to the area have been halted.

At least 50,000 people live in West Point, one of the poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods of the capital. Sanitation is poor even in the best of times and defecation in the streets and beaches is a major problem. Mistrust of authorities is rampant in this poorly served area, where many people live without electricity or access to clean water.

The community is in “disarray” following the arrival of forces on Wednesday morning, West Point resident, Richard Kieh, told The Associated Press by phone.

“Prices of things have been doubled here,” he said.

The Ebola outbreak has already touched other parts of the capital, where dead bodies have lain in the streets for hours, sometimes days, even though residents asked that they be picked up by Health Ministry workers.

Liberia has the highest death toll, and its number of cases is rising the fastest. Sirleaf also ordered gathering places like movie theaters and night clubs shut and cordoned off Dolo Town, 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of the capital.

While whole counties and districts in Sierra Leone and Liberia have been sealed off and internal travel restrictions have limited the movement of people in Guinea, the sealing off of West Point is the first time such restrictions have been put in place in a capital city in this outbreak.

The current Ebola outbreak is currently the most severe in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but the U.N. health agency said that there were encouraging signs that the tide was beginning to turn in Guinea. There is also hope that Nigeria has managed to contain the disease to about a dozen cases.

Nigeria’s health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said Tuesday that a fifth person had died of the disease in that country. All of Nigeria’s reported cases so far have been people who had direct contact with a Liberian-American man who was already infected when he arrived in the country on an airliner.

___

Associated Press photographer Abbas Dulleh in Monrovia, Liberia, and writer Maram Mazen in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

TIME Infectious Disease

Aid Group Slams Global Response to Ebola Outbreak

A Liberian burial team wearing protective clothing retrieves the body of a 60-year-old Ebola victim from his home on Aug. 17, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia.
A Liberian burial team wearing protective clothing retrieves the body of a 60-year-old Ebola victim from his home on Aug. 17, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia. John Moore—Getty Images

Countries are securing their own borders and leaving West Africa to fend for itself

The main agency fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is lashing out at the international response, calling it “non-existent.”

“We are completely amazed by the lack of willingness and professionalism and coordination to tackle this epidemic,” Brice de le Vingne, the operations director of Doctors Without Borders, told the Financial Times. “We have been screaming for months. Now the situation is even worse – we are today on the verge of seeing an entire country collapsing.”

An estimated 2,240 people have been infected with the virus in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia since it first surfaced in March, and more than half of the afflicted have died. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) describes the current situation in Liberia as “catastrophic” and continuously deteriorating. The country has closed its borders, declared a state of emergency and on Tuesday it imposed a curfew on the main slum area in the capital of Monrovia, where Ebola panic has lead to public unrest.

Fear of infection has compounded the disaster, with workers and patients fleeing Monrovia hospitals in recent days, leading to an almost complete collapse of the health system and causing increased risks for other diseases such as malaria.

To be fair, many countries and organizations are sending aid to the affected region. The African Development Bank has pledged $56 million, the United Kingdom has increased its assistance to $8 million, China has sent supplies worth $4.9 million, E.U. support stands at $15.8 million, and the U.S. has pledged the same amount of aid as well as deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). According to MSF, however, that’s far from enough.

“Leaders in the West are talking about their own safety and doing things like closing airlines – and not helping anyone else,” Brice de la Vingne told the Guardian, comparing it with the rapid international response to the earthquake in Haiti, where 300,000 people died. “You need very senior people with high profiles, the kind of people who can coordinate a response to a million people affected by an earthquake.”

A million people are currently residing in quarantined regions and are at risk of not receiving adequate supplies of food and water, although the World Health Organization said Tuesday that it had started delivering food aid to hospitalized patients and quarantined districts, in cooperation with the World Food Program. This aid will continue for another three months.

However, the biggest unmet need is for additional well-trained health workers. Professionals on the ground are exhausted, and several hundred have died in part because of a lack of training. MSF and other organizations are stretched to breaking point, some of them because of their involvement in other crises. USAID, for example, is responding to four humanitarian crises at the same time: South Sudan, Syria, Iraq and the Ebola outbreak. It must also weigh up whether to put people at risk.

“There may be a lot of well-intentioned medical staff in the world, but this is Ebola,” DART leader Tim Callaghan told the development web site Devex.

MSF president Dr. Joanne Liu told told the New York Times that it is also more difficult to recruit medical professionals to deal with Ebola than for any other emergency, because of the risk of infection and the dangers of giving constant care to the patients. “You have to learn to live with fear,” she said.

TIME Infectious Disease

A Patient Is Being Tested for Ebola at a California Hospital

507063921
Getty Images

The hospital has not divulged details of the patient or stated if the patient has recently been in West Africa, the disease's epicenter

An unnamed patient has been admitted to a hospital in Sacramento over possible exposure to the Ebola virus, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

“We are working with the Sacramento County Division of Public Health regarding a patient admitted to the Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus,” Dr. Stephen M. Parodi, an infectious-diseases specialist and director of the hospital’s operations, said in a statement.

He said patient samples had already been collected and sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further testing. The hospital has also taken the necessary precautions to protect other patients, staff and doctors.

“This includes isolation of the patient in a specially equipped negative pressure room and the use of personal protective equipment by trained staff, coordinated with infectious disease specialists,” said Parodi.

The hospital did not give details about the patient, state when the patient was admitted, or say if the patient had recently been in West Africa, the Chronicle reported.

The world’s worst-ever Ebola outbreak has swept through several countries in West Africa and has killed more than 1,200 people since the first case was reported in Guinea in December of last year.

Two American aid workers, who contracted the disease in Liberia, returned to the U.S. for treatment earlier this month.

[San Francisco Chronicle]

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