Aug. 4 (Bloomberg) -- The American doctor being treated for Ebola in Atlanta is improving and in good spirits, his family and supporters said, as a top health official downplayed fears the deadly virus could take hold in the U.S.
Kent Brantly became infected while working with the North Carolina-based charity Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia. He arrived in Atlanta Aug. 2 to be treated at Emory University Hospital, and is expected to be followed there as early as tomorrow by Nancy Writebol, an aid worker also infected in Liberia.
Tom Frieden, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he was hopeful on Brantly’s recovery. He also said an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. similar to the one in West Africa is highly unlikely because the U.S. has better infection controls in hospitals and in burial procedures.
“Could we have another person here, could we have a case or two? Not impossible,” Frieden said. “We say in medicine never say never. But we know how to stop it here.”
The outbreak in West Africa has infected at least 1,440 and killed 826 since March, the Geneva-based World Health Organization said in an update on its website yesterday. Brantly and Writebol had been in isolation at an Ebola center in Liberia since being infected about a week ago.
Brantly’s wife, Amber, yesterday thanked Emory University Hospital for accepting her husband, in a statement released by Samaritan’s Purse. She said she was able to talk with her husband during the day.
“He is in good spirits,” Amber Brantly said in the statement. “He thanked everyone for their prayers and asked for continued prayer for Nancy Writebol’s safe return, and full recovery.”
Nancy Writebol and her husband, David, were missionaries for Eustis, Florida-based Rafiki Foundation for 14 years and left around 2012, when they took their current post with the charity called SIM USA. While with Rafiki they spent time in Ecuador and in Zambia, running an orphanage and school, Karen Elliott, Rafiki Foundation’s executive director said today.
Elliott said she’s been staying in touch with David Writebol by e-mail but did not have any first-hand updates of Nancy’s condition. Rafiki is a Christian-based mission and aid group currently working in 10 African countries, Elliott said.
Medical care of the two U.S. citizens may take two to three weeks if all goes well, Bruce Ribner, an infectious disease specialist at Emory, said in an Aug. 1 news conference. There is no cure for Ebola. Patients get fluids, blood transfusions and antibiotics to fight off infections with the hope their immune systems can fight off Ebola’s onslaught.
Liberia, where the two Americans were infected, is one of three African countries where the deadly virus is raging. On Aug. 2, the WHO announced a new, $100 million push to contain the outbreak on July 31.
The presidents of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea agreed at an Aug. 1 emergency meeting to isolate the border region where the three countries meet, according to an e-mailed statement from Sierra Leone’s health ministry. Police and military will be sent to the area, it said. The leaders also pledged to give incentives to medical staff to persuade them to help fight the virus’s spread.
Liberia’s vice president, Joseph Boakai, said in an interview yesterday that the spread of Ebola in that country threatens to erase the economic progress the West African nation has made since the end of the civil war in 2003.
“This is an emergency that has superimposed upon our resources and we need to deal with it immediately,” he said in an interview today with Bloomberg TV in Washington. “This is going to challenge all of our development agenda.”
Liberia, which has an economy of about $2 billion, relies on World Bank aid and grants to fund about a third of its budget. The $100 million pledged by the WHO to combat the disease s a “reasonable” start, Boakai said.
“We need for people to understand this is an emergency, just as something like a flood or any other disaster,” according to Boakai, who is representing President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf at the U.S.-Africa summit in Washington this week. Liberia “doesn’t have the personnel or knowledge to handle this by ourselves,” he said.
Frieden, as part of a tour of Sunday morning talk shows, said on CBS that the most important thing that can be done with the outbreak is “to stop it at the source in Africa,” he said. “That’s going to protect them and protect us.”
The statements came a day after the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the viral outbreak in West Africa, the worst in history, needs a serious increase in effort to be contained.
“The spread of the virus can only be halted with scaled-up support and coordinated action by all parties,” Panu Saaristo, the federation’s emergency health coordinator, said yesterday in a statement. “We cannot continue to turn a blind eye on what is happening in western Africa.”
Appeals for emergency funding have not been met, hampering response to the outbreak, said Benoit Carpentier, a spokesman for the aid group.
The CDC, which confirmed the Brantly and Writebol cases are the first ever on U.S. soil, is working with the hospital and transport company to make sure evacuation of the two patients goes safely, said Barbara Reynolds, an agency spokeswoman.
“We’re here to make sure the transportation process and the care here in the U.S. ensures there’s no spread,” Reynolds said. “It’s important to remember this is not an airborne virus, it requires close contact with body fluids. It’s minimal risk as long as the people caring for the patient use meticulous procedures.”
The plane carrying Brantly landed at Dobbins Air Reserve Base near Atlanta. Both patients will fly into that airfield, Department of Defense spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said at an Aug. 1 briefing.
Faculty members and visitors to Emory, located in a hilly area of stately homes and winding streets, showed little sign of worry yesterday about the arrival of the two Ebola patients.
Lisa Garvin, associate dean of chapel and religious life, said most of the concern is coming from her Facebook friends who live outside Atlanta. Students seem proud their school is fulfilling its health and education mission, Garvin said.
“People think it’s cool that Emory’s helping solve a world crisis,” said Jeff Tate, who works in facilities and operations at Emory.
The Reverend Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church said he believes most Atlantans understand that Emory can provide safe care to the two victims.
“I think there are far more people in Atlanta who are proud that this is a place where these kinds of serious medical issues can be addressed,” Warnock said.
--With assistance from Silas Gbandia in Freetown, Pauline Bax and Andres R. Martinez in Accra and David Lerman, Greg Giroux and Phil Mattingly in Washington.