TIME ebola

Ebola’s Orphans Have No Place to Go

Ebola's toll includes children who lose their parents to the disease. One charity is coming up with a solution

Berlinda watched her mother die. The three-year-old may not have understood what exactly was going on as the ambulance team transported her and her grievously ill mother to Redemption Hospital, one of Monrovia’s dedicated Ebola treatment centers, but at least she knew she was with the one person who loved her more than anything else in the world.

By the time the ambulance arrived at the clinic in Liberia’s capital city on September 15, her mother had slipped into silence, then death. Berlinda, dressed in a pink plaid shirt and ruffled shorts, emerged from the ambulance wide eyed and scared. There was no one there to receive her, just a phalanx of faceless health care workers covered head-to-toe in white biohazard suits. She too was a potential Ebola patient, so no one could risk picking her up for a comforting hug. Instead she was escorted into the center, given a bed and left for observation. A day later her Ebola test came out negative, but there was no one to celebrate, no one to take her home. Her father unknown and her mother dead; she had nowhere to go.

In a crisis as overwhelming as the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, it is easy to forget that behind each daily death toll there are people left to live with unimaginable loss. For children who lose their parents to sickness or death, the results can be devastating. The United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that around 3,700 children have lost at least one parent in an outbreak that has devastated Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Those numbers are likely to double by mid-October. Sometimes relatives can be rounded up to take in the child, but with fears of contagion so strong, Ebola’s stigma is starting to eclipse even close blood ties.

“Thousands of children are living through the deaths of their mother, father or family members from Ebola,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West & Central Africa. “These children urgently need special attention and support; yet many of them feel unwanted and even abandoned.”

Berlinda was one of the lucky ones. As she peered through the ambulance doors before entering the clinic, she caught the attention of Katie Meyler, the American founder of a Monrovia-based education charity who was at the clinic checking in on one of her Ebola-assistance programs. Meyler snapped a few photos for Instagram (she initially thought her name was Pearlina, until she saw the girl’s paperwork a few days later). In the months before Ebola struck Liberia, Meyler’s charity, More Than Me, had been in the process of setting up a beachside guesthouse designed to earn an income for the organization, which provides schooling for vulnerable Liberian girls. Those plans had been put on hold, but when Meyler saw Berlinda she realized that she had the resources and the housing to be able to do something. “I told the doctors that I could take care of her until they figured out how to find her family,” says Meyler. Two days later, Berlinda was out of the clinic and in a clean, welcoming home full of new toys, staffed with a nurse and a former teacher, and Meyler had a new project on her hands.

For Meyler, whose decade-long, seat-of-the-pants approach to running an NGO in Liberia can be best defined as “give love and the rest will follow,” such a rapid change in objective came easy. (A few weeks ago she brought $500 worth of toys, candy and ice cream to pass out to patients in a treatment center. She admits that giving lollypops to a person afflicted with Ebola may not be sound medical practice, but “if someone is dying, it can’t be bad to bring them some joy.”)

That kind of aid in Liberia has raised eyebrows among the more traditional international NGOs, who prefer to strengthen local institutions instead of providing alternatives. But in the case of Ebola’s orphans, the need has simply become overwhelming. Ebola can take up to 21 days between exposure to the virus and the development of symptoms, so anyone who has been in direct contact with a patient must be treated as potentially contagious throughout a three-week quarantine. Few are willing to take in children under those conditions.

“The best place for those children to be quarantined is with family members,” says Amy Richmond, a child protection officer in Liberia for the Save the Children NGO. “But fear and stigma around Ebola is a growing phenomenon here, and relatives are scared to take these kids in.”

Even without the need for quarantine, Ebola’s stigma lingers. Three weeks ago, ten-year-old Esther and her family were admitted to a clinic for treatment. She survived, but her parents and her brother did not. Even though she is now immune from Ebola and cannot pass on the virus, distant relatives refused to take her.

“There was this big celebration for all the survivors at the clinic,” recalls Meyler. “Everyone was laughing and praying, but she was bawling her eyes out,” because she had nowhere to go.

That’s where Meyler’s guesthouse-turned-temporary-orphanage comes in. The cheerful blue and yellow building, dubbed HOPE House (Housing, Observation and Pediatric Evaluation), is now home to four children, including Esther and Berlinda. Once Meyler gets the appropriate registration through the government, she plans to welcome up to some 70 more. All of the city’s Ebola treatment centers are already calling, she says. “Everyone is telling me they have kids . . . I can tell you that as soon as we open our doors, it is going to be flooded.”

HOPE House isn’t limited just to orphans. The parents of the two other residents, 3-year-old twins Praise and Praises, are still alive, undergoing treatment for Ebola at Monrovia’s MSF-run isolation center. The twins’ grandmother, Marthalyne Freeman, would gladly take them in, but she works 12-hour shifts as an Ebola nurse. Letting them stay with their parents in the center, she says, is out of the question.

“The children get infected or they get traumatized because their parents can’t take care of them,” says Freeman. She has been working as a nurse since the start of the ongoing Ebola outbreak, she says, and she has seen a lot difficult cases. “Children are being abandoned, and when they are discharged there is no place to keep them. And I don’t think the government has any plans for that right now. The situation in Liberia is very hard.” It is. But for at least some children separated from their parents, things are about to get slightly less hard.

TIME Infectious Disease

Ebola Vaccines Are Being Expedited

Professor Adrian Hill, Director of the Jenner Institute, and Chief Investigator of the trials, holds a phial containing the Ebola vaccine at the Oxford Vaccine Group Centre for Clinical Vaccinology and Tropical Medicine (CCVTM) in Oxford, southern England on Sept. 17, 2014.
Professor Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute and chief investigator of the trials, holds a vial containing the Ebola vaccine at the Oxford Vaccine Group Centre for Clinical Vaccinology and Tropical Medicine in Oxford, southern England, on Sept. 17, 2014 Steve Parsons—Reuters

"Nothing can be allowed to delay this work"

International experts want a fully tested and licensed Ebola vaccine scaled up for mass use in the near future, according to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) meeting.

WHO organized a panel of more than 70 experts, from scientists to medical ethicists, to reach consensus over the status of Ebola vaccines currently being tested. WHO released news from the meeting on Wednesday, the day after the U.S. confirmed its first patient with Ebola. According to the WHO statement, the mission is to “accomplish, within a matter of months, work that normally takes from two to four years, without compromising international standards for safety and efficacy.”

Two vaccines have great potential and are ready for safety testing. The first vaccine is developed by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and GlaxoSmithKline. That vaccine is currently undergoing a human-safety trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus in Bethesda, Md., as well as at the University of Oxford. The second vaccine is under development by the Public Health Agency of Canada in Winnepeg. That vaccine will start a human-safety trial in early October. Canada has already donated 800 vials of their vaccine to WHO, the organization says. Once more data is available on what dosing should be used, WHO says these vials could translate to around 1,500 to 2,000 doses of the vaccine.

The goal of the safety trials is to confirm that the vaccines are safe enough to move on to a larger human trial. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID and the lead on the NIH vaccine, tells TIME the safety trial is so far “uneventful,” which is a good thing. “There really [are] no red flags so it seems to be going along quite well,” he says. The vaccine had already been tested in monkeys and showed very promising results.

WHO and other organizations have been expediting the testing and approval processes for these drugs since early summer, but the NIH’s vaccine has been under development since 2003. At the time, it did not have the pharmaceutical funding to move forward. “[In 2003] there was very little interest for the obvious reasons that there was no disease around,” says Fauci. “Recently, we now have a much more vigorous interest from pharmaceutical companies.”

WHO hopes that in October and November, the vaccines will make it through their safety trials and into next-stage human testing. Between January and February 2015, the goal is to have next-phase human trials approved and initiated in countries affected with Ebola. People at a higher risk for the disease, like health care workers, are a priority.

The meeting did not highlight ZMapp, the drug given to two American patients who were evacuated from Liberia to Emory University in Atlanta. Mapp Biopharmaceutical, the company that produces ZMapp, is a small team that says its resources are now exhausted. Their drug is grown in tobacco plants and requires waiting for a crop in order to produce more of it.

One of the ways trials could be quickened is if the researchers take a “wedge” approach, which means that a wedge or slice of the study population is selected for a first step in the trial, and what is learned in that step is then used on the next slice of the participants. While trials are ongoing, there are still significant technical obstacles that need to be addressed once a vaccine is ready for mass use: how vaccines will be distributed, for instance, and how low-resource health systems can ensure that vaccines are stored below –100 degrees.

In the WHO meeting, the phrase “Nothing can be allowed to delay this work” was repeated multiple times, and since Ebola has now infected more than 7,000 people and even made it to the U.S., the race to develop an effective vaccine is becoming all the more frantic.

TIME Infectious Disease

CDC Received Over 90 Calls About Potential Ebola Cases Before Dallas Patient

The Dallas patient is the 13th patient in the U.S. tested by the CDC

On the afternoon of Sept. 28, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) epidemic intelligence officers—sometimes referred to as disease detectives—received a call from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas concerned about a patient the hospital thought could be at risk for Ebola. This was at least the 90th call the team had received during the Ebola outbreak from hospitals concerned that one of their patients could possibly be infected. But until Tuesday, there had never been a diagnosed case.

CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a press conference on Tuesday that “As long as the outbreak continues in Africa, we need to be on-guard.” The statement rings true since the U.S. now has its first patient, but the CDC has been awaiting the possibility that Ebola would make it to American soil for months.

On Sunday afternoon, an epidemic intelligence service officer took the hospital through a decision-tree of sorts that helps the CDC determine whether the patient is at a real risk for Ebola. Factors that are taken into account are where the patient had traveled in the past and what their symptoms were. Since the patient continued through the CDC’s algorithm with enough red flags, the CDC requested that the patient be isolated and that a blood specimen be sent to the CDC’s level 4 testing lab for confirmation.

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

The Dallas patient is the 13th person that the CDC has actually tested for Ebola. “Every morning, Dr. Frieden is updated on all of the individuals that we have looked at and the numerous individuals under investigation,” a CDC spokesperson told TIME. There have been a few false alarms already, including patients in New York City and Miami—all eventually tested negative.

The CDC campus is in Atlanta, Georgia, and since early August, the headquarters has had its Emergency Operations Center on a Level 1 response—the highest possible level for a public health crisis. Just a couple days after the CDC kicked operations into high gear, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak in West Africa a global public health emergency. In the Emergency Operations Center, several epidemic intelligence officers sit in rows of long tables tapping away at their computers facing a wall of computer screens that show where Ebola clusters are in West Africa, as well as graphs of the disease’s trajectory. The officers offer aid both domestically and to their colleagues in the field. Many have been traveling in and out of West Africa since the spring.

After the CDC determined that the patient, reportedly a man named Thomas Eric Duncan, was indeed at a very high risk for the disease, the hospital sent blood specimens for testing to both the CDC’s lab as well as a Texas Health Department lab. The specimens arrived at the CDC around 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, and by Tuesday afternoon, both the CDC and the Texas Health Department had confirmed that the patient was in fact positive for Ebola. “We made sure the hospital spoke with the patient and their family first,” said a CDC spokesperson to TIME.

Once the patient was told they were positive, the CDC quickly informed the public by sending out a confirmation to media late Tuesday afternoon and holding a press conference an hour later. During that time, CDC disease specialists were already deploying to Dallas—landing on Tuesday evening to begin the process of tracking down and monitoring all the people that the patient with Ebola had come in contact with while infectious. It’s a process that will continue until the 21-day incubation period of the disease ends.

Though the Dallas patient is the first patient to have confirmed Ebola, the CDC has long said that an Ebola patient making it to the U.S. was always a possibility. However, due to the quality of health care in the United States, patients are not facing the same dire situations as patients in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea, and Ebola in the states will likely have a much different prognosis.

TIME ebola

Mistake Led to Ebola Patient’s Initial Release

Texas Hospital Patient Confirmed As First Case Of Ebola Virus Diagnosed In US
A general view of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas where a patient has been diagnosed with the Ebola virus on Sept. 30, 2014 in Dallas. Mike Stone—Getty Images

Texas officials are scrambling to trace Ebola patient's contacts after he was sent home from the hospital

Updated 7:45 p.m. Wednesday

The Dallas hospital patient who has tested positive for Ebola virus indicated on his first visit that he had traveled to the city from West Africa, but was released after that information was not communicated to the entire medical team who treated him.

The patient first arrived at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas late on Sept. 25, complaining of a fever and abdominal pains, hospital officials said at a news conference. A nurse administered a checklist, on which the patient indicated that he had recently traveled from Liberia. Nevertheless, the hospital sent him home.

“The overall clinical presentation was not typical at that point yet for Ebola,” said Dr. Mark Lester, vice president and zone clinical leader with Texas Health Resources, noting that the patient lacked some traditional hallmarks of the disease, which include vomiting and diarrhea. “Regretfully, that information was not fully communicated throughout the full team.”

The patient, who was confirmed Tuesday as the first direct case of Ebola on U.S. soil, was re-admitted two days later and placed immediately in isolation. On Wednesday, the hospital said he was in serious but stable condition. He is being held in a private ward under round-the-clock care.

The Associated Press, citing the patient’s sister, reported that his name was Thomas Eric Duncan. Local officials would not confirm the report in accordance with patient confidentiality requirements.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, United Airlines said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told the airline the patient flew two legs of his flight from Liberia to Dallas on Sept. 20 United flights, one from Brussels to Washington, D.C., and then from Washington to Dallas-Fort Worth. The director of the CDC said there is “zero risk” of any Ebola transmission to anybody who was traveling on either flight.

The patient’s initial release will raise questions about whether the miscommunication between hospital staff may have increased the chance of additional people becoming infected. Local, state and federal officials have launched a broad effort to trace the contacts made by the patient between the time he began suffering symptoms and his second trip to the hospital, on Sept. 28.

“This is all hands on deck,” Texas Governor Rick Perry said, flanked by a battery of doctors and political officials.

Dr. Christopher Perkins, Dallas County Health and Human Services Medical Director, said 12 to 18 people were being monitored after possibly coming into contact with the sick patient. Of that number, five were members of his immediate household and five were school-aged children.

Mike Miles, the superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District, said the children may have come into contact with the patient over the weekend. The children are being kept out of school, but attended earlier this week, Miles said. None of the potential contacts are currently being quarantined.

The ambulance workers who transported the Ebola patient on his second trip to the hospital are in isolation as a precaution. The hospital is still deciding what precautions to take with the medical staff who had contact with the patient. “Contact and exposure are not the same,” said Dr. Edward Goodman, an epidemiologist at the hospital, who stressed that there was little likelihood that anybody at the hospital has been exposed.

Officials cautioned the public not to panic. While deadly, Ebola is not easy to transmit. It is passed on through contact with bodily fluids, such as blood or vomit, but it cannot be transmitted through the air. Patients carrying Ebola are not contagious unless they are presenting symptoms of the disease.

This story has been updated to reflect new information about the patient’s trip to Dallas and the timing of his visit to the hospital.

TIME Infectious Disease

First U.S. Ebola Patient Identified

His sister identified him

The first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. was identified Wednesday as Thomas Eric Duncan.

Duncan’s sister Mai Wureh told the Associated Press it was her brother who is at the center of the country’s latest Ebola scare. Wureh said her brother went to the emergency room on Friday complaining of fever and a nurse asked about whether he had recently been in Ebola-affected countries. He said yes, but, according to Dr. Mark Lester, a clinical leader for Texas Health Resources, the “information was not fully communicated throughout the whole team.”

Duncan was sent home with antibiotics, and returned two days later in an ambulance with more severe symptoms. He is currently in serious but stable condition at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.

[AP]

TIME health

Ebola Co-Discoverer: ‘This Was an Avoidable Catastrophe’

Texas Hospital Patient Confirmed As First Case Of Ebola Virus Diagnosed In US
Dr. Edward Goodman, epidemiologist at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, and Dr. Mark Lester, Southeast Zone clinical leader for Texas Health Resources, answer questions during a media conference at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas where a patient has been diagnosed with the Ebola virus on September 30, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. Mike Stone—Getty Images

Professor Peter Piot is Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and former Executive Director of UNAIDS and Under Secretary-General of the United Nations. He co-discovered Ebola in 1976.

The international community took too long to react to the outbreak. We must now put in place mechanisms to handle better the next inevitable epidemic

The news from Dallas that the first Ebola case outside of Africa has been diagnosed on U.S. soil is a stark reminder that epidemics on the other side of the world are a threat to us all. No epidemic is just local.

As long as this still expanding Ebola epidemic in West Africa continues, there is a constant source for it to spread to other countries – in the first place to neighboring African countries. This outbreak is the largest and longest ever, with 7,157 cases and 3,330 deaths so far. It is the first outbreak that involves multiple and entire countries, and the first one that affects capital cities.

With increasing global mobility, it was always possible that someone traveling from an infected country would be carrying this deadly virus with them, and it will happen again. Fortunately, the U.S. and other high income countries have robust infection control measures and clinical practices to stop the onward spread of the virus within the country. Health services are well equipped to isolate the patient, to trace everyone he has been in contact with, and to put those contacts under surveillance for signs of fever. Health workers need to be alert for anyone with early symptoms of Ebola by always asking about people’s travel history (which is good practice any way). The risk to citizens is extremely small.

We would need to be far more concerned if someone with Ebola traveled to a country where health services have poor infection control and lack hygiene practices. If an infected traveler enters an environment like this, it will result in new outbreaks. In addition, nursing and medical staff are at high risk of contracting Ebola virus infection as they often lack protective gear. Over 200 health care workers have already died in this epidemic alone.

This confirmed case in the U.S. does not mean we should respond by stopping flights from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, as some are calling for. The current outbreak is already disrupting entire societies because hospitals have stopped functioning and commerce is coming to a halt. Cutting these countries off from the rest of the world will only worsen the social and economic impacts, hamper aid efforts, and increase the panic and fear. In addition it won’t stop the spread of the virus, and is not recommended by the World Health Organization.

Instead, we must bring the humanitarian catastrophe under control by greatly expanding the national and international response. We must build field hospitals and Ebola care centers, send healthcare staff, medical supplies and logistical coordination, as well as supporting governments and NGOs to stop Ebola transmission through community mobilization to avoid risky funeral and care practices. Shortening the time between infection and presentation to treatment and isolation facilities is probably the most critical action today to end this epidemic. At the same time, experimental therapies and vaccines are finally being evaluated for their efficacy, but will come too late for too many. Above all, we must rebuild trust.

The international community initially took too long to react to the outbreak and our response is still far from perfect. But the U.S. commitment last month to send up to 3,000 troops to help tackle Ebola in Liberia was a decisive moment, as is the UK’s massive support to Sierra Leone, including by convening a donor conference on October 2. Other European countries must now join in immediately.

This was an avoidable catastrophe, above all if there had been earlier recognition, and prompter and vaster national and international responses. The world must now put in place mechanisms and means to handle better the next epidemic, which will undoubtedly come.

Professor Peter Piot is Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and former Executive Director of UNAIDS and Under Secretary-General of the United Nations. He co-discovered Ebola in 1976.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Infectious Disease

This Is the 21-Day Process for Stopping Ebola

Texas Hospital Patient Confirmed As First Case Of Ebola Virus Diagnosed In US
Dr. Edward Goodman, epidemiologist at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, and Dr. Mark Lester, Southeast Zone clinical leader for Texas Health Resources, answer questions during a media conference at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas where a patient has been diagnosed with the Ebola virus on Sept. 30, 2014 in Dallas. Mike Stone—Getty Images

Experts are tracking anyone who could have come in contact with the first patient to be diagnosed in the U.S.

U.S. health officials were working Wednesday to determine whether the first diagnosis of Ebola on American soil is an isolated case—or whether the patient may have infected others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dispatched a nine-person epidemiology team to Dallas on Tuesday night. Their job is to contain any potential spread of the virus by working with local health officials to document whether the patient had contact with other people—who, where and when. How they’ll do this is less like the movie Outbreak and more of a labor-intensive process of interviews and monitoring.

The trail they will investigate starts Sept. 26, when a man came into Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas for medical care. For two days, he had been feeling ill with fever and muscle aches—generally not concerning, which is why he was sent home. Two days later, he was worse, and was brought back to the hospital by ambulance.

It wasn’t immediately clear if doctors had asked the patient the critical question they should be asking all people who seek medical care for fevers, which is whether he had recently been outside of the U.S., and whether he had traveled to any of the countries in West Africa—including Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone—now battling the worst Ebola outbreak in the disease’s history. A Texas health official clarified Wednesday that a nurse had indeed asked the patient if he’d been to Africa and that he said he had, but hospital staff never factored that into their initial treatment.

MORE: How U.S. Doctors Can Contain Ebola

It turned out he had. Four days before he began feeling sick, the patient had been in Liberia before flying to the U.S. This time, based on his symptoms and his travel history, the doctors admitted him into an isolated room and called the state health department and the CDC’s 24-hour hotline; officials recommended testing the patient’s blood for the Ebola virus.

It tested positive, and now health officials from national and local agencies are on the scene. Their job is to contain any potential spread of the virus by documenting who, where and when the patient had contacted other people who might have been exposed via the patient. Because Ebola is only transmitted by droplets—in urine, blood or other body fluids—and only contagious when patients become symptomatic, those at highest risk are people who would have had the closest and most direct contact with the patient. Those who are exposed would also have to have direct mucous contact with infected fluids, such as via the eyes, nasal passages, or through a cut in the skin. So the passengers on the patient’s flights from Liberia to the U.S., for example, aren’t considered at high risk of exposure since he was not experiencing symptoms then.

MORE: Ebola in the United States: What You Need to Know

But the emergency medical personnel who brought the patient to Texas Health Presbyterian in the ambulance might be. They, and the man’s close family members, are being monitored for the virus’ longest incubation period—21 days—for any symptoms of Ebola, such as fever, nausea, vomiting or muscle weakness. If they don’t show any symptoms after that time, they’re likely in the clear.

Epidemiologists take a ring approach to tracing contacts of patients—starting with the circle of people with the most direct contact, such as family members or those who share close living arrangements. Each contact is asked about their own recent interactions with people, and this information is built into a contact tree of folks, not all of whom would be put on watch. Depending on how direct the contact with the patient was, even family members may not be quarantined but asked to refrain from traveling out of the city or country, for example, and avoiding public areas like movie theaters or shopping malls. A handful of children who were in the home with the patient are being monitored, local health officials said at a news conference on Wednesday, but they were allowed to attend school as usual.

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

If anyone in the first circle of contacts develops symptoms, then doctors would step up their monitoring of the next ring of contacts, asking them to stay away from public gatherings for 21 days. This pattern continues until no one in a ring reports symptoms in the incubation period; that suggests they were not exposed and therefore don’t have the infection.

All of this, of course, depends on honest and accurate information from the patient and his contacts about where they have been and with whom—something that has been an issue in west Africa, where stigma against Ebola has led patients to flee health volunteers who are attempting to trace contacts, or fail to report people they have interacted with.

That shouldn’t be a problem here, CDC director Tom Frieden said. “We have identified all the people who could have had contact with the patient while he was infectious,” he said during a news conference. “We are stopping it in its tracks in this country. There is no doubt in my mind that we will stop it here.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Liberia Hopes Ebola Diagnosis in the U.S. Will Lead to More Help

“Now the Americans know Ebola can go there, maybe they will send more doctors to Liberia”

The news that a man who recently traveled from Liberia to Dallas has been diagnosed with Ebola, the first diagnosis on American soil, was met with mixed reaction Wednesday in one of the West African countries struggling to contain the deadly disease.

Government officials in the capital Monrovia said they have no knowledge of the man’s identity, and have privately expressed frustration that the United States, citing patient confidentiality laws, has not revealed his name or even his nationality. Liberians, ever sensitive to the stigma of Ebola, repeatedly point out that just because the man departed from the capital’s international airport on Sept. 19, it does not necessarily mean he is, in fact, Liberian.

That frustration is reflected on the country’s lively call-in radio talk show. Callers want to be able to identify the man, and pinpoint his nationality, because they say they want to “clear Liberia’s name.” Liberians feel they have been unfairly identified with the Ebola outbreak, which, many point out, started in neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone, even if Liberia now has the majority of cases. Other call-in guests are taking a longer view, expressing hopes that the case, which is already getting around the clock U.S. media attention, may elicit further American support for the Ebola effort in Liberia.

“Now the Americans know Ebola can go there, maybe they will send more doctors to Liberia,” one caller said. Another brought up the case of American-Liberian Patrick Sawyer, who caught Ebola while working in Liberia, and took it to Lagos, Nigeria, on July 20. He died five days later, unleashing a chain of transmission that ultimately infected 20 and killed eight. Nigerian officials are now saying that the outbreak has been contained. Like the Sawyer case, the caller said, this just further “proves to the world that Ebola is real, and a global threat.” The host agreed. “It is good,” he said, that the patient was getting good treatment in Dallas. It was also good, he added, that Americans can now see the reality of Ebola for themselves: “This will raise international attention, this will let Americans know that Ebola is real.”

MONEY Airline Stocks

Airline Stocks Are Sinking—and Ebola Is Only Partly to Blame

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
Assurances about Ebola safety from CDC Director Tom Frieden apparently fell on deaf ears on Wall Street. Tami Chappell—Reuters

Airline stocks got hammered this morning after the first official case of Ebola was confirmed in a Texas patient. But calm down: Investors have a long history of overreacting to deadly diseases.

Shares of major U.S. airlines descended about 4% Wednesday morning, and investors are blaming Ebola.

The CDC and Texas Health Department confirmed the first official diagnosis of Ebola in the U.S., in a man who had traveled to Dallas from Liberia.

CDC Director Tom Frieden was quick to point out that “there’s all the difference in the world between the U.S. and parts of Africa where Ebola is spreading. The United States has a strong health care system and public health professionals who will make sure this case does not threaten our communities.”

Those assurances apparently fell on deaf ears on Wall Street, where investors pushed the stocks of major carriers such as United Airlines UNITED CONTINENTAL HLDG. UAL -2.8211% , American Airlines AMERICAN AIRLINES GROUP INC AAL -3.0722% , and Delta DELTA AIR LINES INC. DAL -3.4578% lower in early morning trading.

UAL Price Chart

UAL Price data by YCharts

Anytime diseases arise that could restrict air travel — in this case, to and from various parts of West Africa — airline shares are among the first to see a reaction.

Last year, for instance, global airline stocks took a tumble on worries of the spread of bird flu. Before that, in early 2009, the outbreak of swine flu pushed airline stocks to double-digit losses amid concern that the disease might curtail travel at a time when the economy was already faltering due to the global financial crisis. And before that, in 2003, the first signs of SARS drove airline stocks lower on fears that international travel — in particular to and from Asia — would be hurt.

In this case, though, even airlines that do not travel in West Africa — for instance, Southwest Airlines SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO. LUV -3.6127% — have been hit.

LUV Price Chart

LUV Price data by YCharts

To be sure, Southwest is headquartered in Dallas, which is where the first U.S. Ebola case was reported. But the fact that an airline like Southwest is being affected makes Morningstar analyst Neal Dihora think that “this might be about something else.”

That something might have to do with oil prices. Oil prices have fallen recently to below $100 a barrel. This is generally good news for airline stocks, since that means a major input cost is headed lower, Dihora says.

But there comes a time in every oil cycle, he points out, where investors wonder if oil prices are headed lower for a reason — as in, is this a sign of further troubles for the global economy?

It’s too soon to say if that’s the case. Many observers are currently chalking up falling oil prices to the strengthening dollar.

But for the moment, it seems that this worry about the global economy is what’s really driving the sector — and the emotional reaction to Ebola only compounded the situation.

TIME Military

Pentagon Dispatches 101st Airborne to Africa to Tackle Ebola

Ebola
Transmission electron micrograph of an Ebola virus virion Getty Images

Headquarters unit from the storied division to coordinate U.S. efforts to tackle the disease

While the U.S. military has dispatched some 1,600 troops to Iraq in recent weeks to deal with the threats posed by Islamic militants there, it apparently was saving its big guns for a more insidious threat: the Ebola virus.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon announced it will soon have about 1,600 troops in western Africa dealing with the spreading scourge—and that nearly half of them will come from the Army’s storied 101st Airborne Division.

“It’s not an armed threat,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said of the Ebola virus Tuesday. But “just like any other threat, we take it very, very seriously.” While U.S. troops will not be tending to those infected with the disease, he said, they will be “trained on personal protective equipment and on the disease itself…we’ll make sure that they’ve got the protection that they need.”

Like the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the battle against Ebola is open-ended, Kirby said. He announced that a 700-strong headquarters unit from the 101st would head to Liberia by the month’s end to help coordinate the response to the epidemic. The virus has so far killed over 1,800 in Liberia, the country worst affected by the outbreak.

A second group of 700 engineering troops are headed there to build treatment units to treat the infected, he said. Nearly 200 U.S. troops are already in West Africa dealing with the threat.

“These deployments are part of a whole-of-government response to the Ebola outbreak,” Kirby said. “The U.S. military is not in the lead, but we are fully prepared to contribute our unique capabilities.”

Last week, 15 Navy Seabees—the service’s construction arm—arrived in the Liberian capital of Monrovia to begin help building treatment and training centers. “We’re establishing command and control nodes, logistics hubs, training for health care workers, and providing engineering support,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. “The protection of our men and women is my priority as we seek to help those in Africa and work together to stem the tide of this crisis.”

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the number of Ebola patients in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had topped 6,500, with nearly half of them dying from the disease.

It was only two weeks ago that President Obama declared the U.S. would dispatch 3,000 troops to battle Ebola. “If the outbreak is not stopped now,” he warned, “we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected, with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us.”

On Tuesday, in another echo of the fight against ISIS, Kirby said that might not prove sufficient. “They’ll come in waves,” he said of U.S. troops deployments. “It could go higher than 3,000 troops eventually.”

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