An American infected with Ebola in Liberia was being treated and monitored in the U.S. on Sunday, as doctors worked to provide care in what will be a crucial few days in his attempt to recover from the deadly disease.
About a week after his first symptoms of Ebola were reported, Kent Brantly, a doctor, was in an Atlanta hospital's special isolation unit. He had arrived Saturday, flown from Liberia in a chartered air ambulance, and he appeared in fairly good condition as he walked, covered from head to toe in a protective suit, into the unit at Emory University Hospital.
Plans to soon bring a second American Ebola patient from Liberia to the same hospital were on schedule, according to the air-charter company hired to do the job.
An Emory spokeswoman wouldn't comment Sunday on the condition of Dr. Brantly, a 33-year-old from Texas, who was infected while working at an Ebola treatment center operated by two U.S. faith-based organizations. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is based in Atlanta right near Emory, told Fox News on Sunday that Dr. Brantly "appears to be improving, and that's encouraging."
American Ebola patient Dr. Kent Brantly arrived from West Africa for treatment at Emory University Hospital on Saturday. His is the first known case of Ebola to be treated in the U.S. Another infected patient, charity worker Nancy Writebol, is expected to arrive in the coming days. Photo: AP
Samaritan's Purse, one of the charities operating the center and the group that brought Dr. Brantly to Liberia, also said Sunday that the doctor's condition was improving, and Dr. Brantly's wife, Amber, said in a statement that she was able to see her husband and that he was in good spirits.
The other infected aid worker, Nancy Writebol, who had been helping decontaminate workers at the clinic for the other charity, SIM USA, was expected to arrive soon for treatment. A SIM USA spokesman couldn't be reached for comment; a news release from the group Friday said she was in serious condition.
The next several days will be critical for the two patients. Ebola has taken the lives of as many as 90% of those it has infected in past outbreaks.
There is no vaccine or treatment for the viral hemorrhagic fever, which causes symptoms such as fever, headaches, vomiting and diarrhea and can puncture blood vessels to cause internal bleeding. But good supportive care, such as fluids to replace those lost in vomiting and diarrhea, medication to bring down fevers, and antibiotics for complications can improve a patient's chances by keeping the immune system as strong as possible to fight off the virus.
In fact, early treatment may have helped keep the death rate lower in the current outbreak in West Africa, according to Stephan Monroe, an emerging infectious diseases expert at the CDC. Of 1,323 cases, 729 have died, according to the World Health Organization, putting the death rate at 55%.
Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol began receiving supportive care as soon as they were diagnosed, according to their respective charities. Dr. Brantly also got a blood transfusion from a 14-year-old boy who survived Ebola under Dr. Brantly's care, in the hope that antibodies would help him, too, fight off the virus. Both Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol received an experimental serum, the charities said, though they didn't specify what the treatment was.
An Emory spokeswoman wouldn't comment on what treatments are being used at the Atlanta hospital.
There are several vaccines and drug treatments in development and testing for Ebola, but none have been approved by regulators. Commercializing them is a challenge given that Ebola is a rare disease, said Thomas Geisbert, who works on potential Ebola vaccine platforms as a researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
"Ebola is very rare—there is not a financial incentive for large pharmaceutical companies to make vaccines for Ebola," he said. "It's really going to require government agencies or a foundation."
Vaccines would be helpful not only as a preventive tool, but to stop transmission during outbreaks, said Thomas Ksiazek, director of high-containment laboratory operations at Galveston National Laboratory. They can be given shortly after infection, and having a vaccine to offer could help draw out contacts of a patient, he said—something that has been hard to do in this outbreak.
"If you identify all of these people at risk, that would reduce the chance of them becoming ill and transmitting it on to others," he said.
Dr. Ksiazek, a veteran of multiple Ebola outbreaks as a former special pathogens branch chief at the CDC, is heading to Sierra Leone Aug. 11 to help with outbreak-control efforts, part of an all-hands-on-deck call by the WHO. Ebola is such a rare disease that no more than 300 medical and public health professionals have experience with outbreaks, said Dr. Ksiazek's former colleague at the CDC, Pierre Rollin, who has been in West Africa for most of the past four months.
"People with this experience are getting to be overwhelmed," Dr. Ksiazek said of the reasons he was asked to come. He said he would help lead a team of epidemiologists tracking the outbreak.
Samaritan's Purse said it expected to finish evacuating this weekend all but its most essential personnel from its operations in Liberia. SIM USA is evacuating nonessential personnel, too, though sending in another American doctor to help at its Ebola treatment center near Monrovia, Liberia.