NEW YORK – A second American infected with Ebola in Liberia was showing “continued improvement” as she arrived in the U.S. for treatment in an Atlanta hospital.
Nancy Writebol, 59, an aid worker, was flown Tuesday to Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia, then taken to Emory University Hospital. Kent Brantly, 33, a doctor who contracted the virus at the same treatment center in Liberia as Writebol, has been receiving medical care at Emory since Saturday.
While Writebol was “very, very weak,” she was showing signs of “continued improvement,” said Bruce Johnson, the president of SIM USA, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based charity that sponsored her work in Liberia.
Both Americans were infected in an Ebola outbreak in West Africa that has sickened 1,711 people, killing 932, the World Health Organization said Wednesday. U.S. officials said Tuesday they were sending more help to fight the worst spread of the virus in Africa.
Writebol and Brantly last week were given doses of an experimental treatment developed by San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. Writebol, given the option of taking the drug while in Liberia, made the decision on her own, according to Johnson. He said it’s not clear if the treatment, dubbed ZMapp, is the reason Writebol is feeling better.
Her condition before taking the drug wasn’t “dire,” he said, but family and friends were “realistic.”
Johnson, chocking back tears during a news conference Tuesday near the Atlanta hospital as he talked about Writebol and Brantly’s commitment to helping people, said he spoke with Writebol’s husband, David, who is still in Liberia. “A week ago we were thinking about possible funeral arrangements.” Johnson said David Writebol told him. “Yet, we kept our faith. Now, we have a real reason to be hopeful.”
Johnson cautioned the condition of Ebola patients often changes daily. Writebol was able to stand while boarding a plane back to the U.S., for example, but needed to be carried on a stretcher into the hospital.
Writebol “did not have direct contact with patients” at the Liberian Ebola center where she and Brantly were infected, Johnson said. She sprayed down health-care workers still in their hazardous materials suits used while caring for patients, he said.
Johnson said the cost of transporting and caring for Writebol during the trip from Liberia was almost $1 million, and the charity hoped the expense would be covered by its medical evacuation insurance policy.
Brantly’s wife, Amber, said her husband was feeling better.
“I have been able to see Kent every day, and he continues to improve,” Amber Brantly said in a statement. “I know that Kent is receiving the very best medical treatment available.”
Also Tuesday, the U.S. Agency for International Development said it is sending a disaster response team to West Africa, along with $5 million in funding to “help trace people who may be infected, as well as provide health clinics and households with hygiene kits, soap, bleach, gloves, masks, and other supplies.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has said it will send an additional 50 medical staff to West Africa over the next 30 days.
In New York, meanwhile, doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital continue awaiting test results from the CDC on a man who showed up Tuesday in their emergency room with symptoms of the disease after previously being in West Africa.
While city health officials said it was “unlikely” the man has Ebola, they said a definitive ruling on blood samples sent to the CDC for testing could be known as early as Wednesday.
It wasn’t clear if Brantly and Writebol were still being given the Mapp drug. Normally, treatment for Ebola includes keeping a patient properly hydrated, replacing lost blood and using antibiotics to fight opportunistic infections. The hope is that the patient’s immune system will fight off the virus on its own.
Ebola is spread between humans through direct contact with bodily fluids, including blood, urine and saliva.
The outbreak that began in March is largely contained in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Nigeria has now reported nine cases, including one death, the WHO said. The disease, first reported in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976, can cause bleeding from the eyes, ears and nose.
Writebol and Brantly will be kept in special isolation units at Emory and treatment may last two to three weeks, doctors there said last week.