As we begin the week, Ebola is still dominating the headlines. Here’s a roundup of some of the latest developments in this ongoing storyline:
Memorial Service Held For Ebola Victim Thomas Eric Duncan
Thomas Eric Duncan, the first and so far only person to die of Ebola in the U.S., was remembered Saturday at memorial service in North Carolina as a compassionate and selfless man. Mourners celebrated the 42-year-old’s life at Rowan International Church in Salisbury, where his sister, mother and nephew worship, according to local NBC affiliate WCNC.
After the service, Duncan’s nephew, Josephus Weeks, said his uncle “cared for everybody, he didn’t care who you were,” adding that he “cared to his own detriment sometimes.” Weeks, who grew up with Duncan but hasn’t seen him in years, said the two were like brothers. “I was looking forward to him coming here and us doing things together,” Weeks said. “Unfortunately that is never going to happen.”
Duncan was in the U.S. visiting family and preparing for his wedding to fiance Louise Troh when he fell ill at his family’s Dallas apartment. After an initial visit to the emergency room at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Sept. 25, he was sent home, despite having a fever of 103 degrees and a recent travel history from Liberia. He returned to the hospital two days later, at which point he was admitted to the hospital and placed under isolation. Duncan died in Dallas on Oct. 8, exactly two weeks after he started showing symptoms of the virus.
Quarantine Comes To An End For Duncan’s Family
Four of Duncan’s family members, including his fiance Louise Troh, have completed a 21-day observation period, and health officials say they are all free of symptoms of the deadly virus. Thirty-nine other people who were being monitored after coming into contact with Duncan have also completed the observation period without any symptoms.
At a morning news conference, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said several other health care workers at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital who had contact with Duncan after he was placed in isolation would come off the list on November 7. Jenkins, Dallas County’s top elected official and the face of the Ebola struggle there, pleaded with residents to be welcoming to those resuming their normal lives, including five children who will return to school this week. He also stressed that the group posed no threat to the community.
“We have to believe in the science,” Jenkins said. “There’s zero risk that those people that have been crossed off the list have Ebola.”
Jenkins said Troh and her family were extremely helpful, working with health officials in the effort to limit the risk of spreading the virus. “These are people who need our compassion, our respect and our love,” Jenkins said. “Treat them the way you would like your family to be treated.”
As USA Today points out: “The good news for Duncan’s family should also reassure Americans about a fact that public health officials have been emphasizing for weeks — that Ebola is not spread through casual contact — said Robert Murphy, director of the Center for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.”
WHO Worker At Emory Has Recovered From Ebola
An unnamed American doctor who was being treated for Ebola at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta has been declared Ebola free and released from the hospital. The patient, who was working for the World Health Organization when he fell ill, was admitted to the Serious Communicable Disease Unit at Emory on Sept. 9.
In a statement, the hospital said:
“In coordination with the CDC and Georgia Department of Public Health, the patient was determined to be free of virus and to pose no public health threat. The patient has asked to remain anonymous and left the hospital for an undisclosed location. He will make a statement at a later date.”
Third U.N. Health Worker Dies Of Ebola
The United Nations reported Monday that another of its staffers has died in the Ebola outbreak. A statement by U.N. Women said Edmund Bangura-Sesay, a local driver for their office in Sierra Leone, died Saturday. This is the third reported death of a U.N. worker from Ebola.
The U.N. Women statement says Bangura-Sesay was quarantined last Tuesday (Oct. 14) after his wife showed symptoms. His wife remains under the care of the Ebola Treatment Center and “we wish her a swift recovery,” the statement said, adding:
“The U.N. Medical team is conducting immediate and robust contact tracing in order to ensure that all people who came into contact with the staff member while he was symptomatic are assessed and quarantined. Our thoughts now are with the family and friends of our colleague Edmond.”
Texas Health Worker On Cruise Ship Tests Negative
According to The New York Times:
“Last week, the announcement that a passenger on the Carnival Magic was a Dallas lab supervisor who had handled an Ebola patient’s blood samples transformed a weeklong Caribbean jaunt into a high-seas drama showcasing anxieties over the spread of the virus. …
“As rumors swirled through the sun decks and dining rooms, the hospital worker and her husband agreed to quarantine themselves in their stateroom. Belize refused to allow the worker to be flown home through its international airport, and Mexico declined to let the ship’s passengers make a day trip to Cozumel. On Saturday afternoon, as the ship headed home, a Coast Guard helicopter swooped in to fetch a blood sample from the hospital worker, to cheers and applause from passengers.
“On Sunday morning, the cruise ship returned to port here on schedule, and health officials confirmed that the hospital worker had tested negative for Ebola.”
Dog Belonging To Nurse Infected With Ebola Will Be Tested For Disease
The dog belonging to Nina Pham, one of two nurses who contracted Ebola in Dallas, will enter a testing period Monday for the disease, according to animal care officials. Bentley, Pham’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, will be placed “into a special kennel periodically,” where his urine and feces will be monitored and tested, according to a statement from the City of Dallas.
The specimen collection will only happen three times within the remainder of Bentley’s quarantine period, which lasts 21 days and is expected to expire in the beginning of November. Bentley is in the care of the City of Dallas Animal Services, which has been assisted by the Texas A&M University emergency veterinary team.
“We are hopeful that Bentley’s journey will contribute to what we know about Ebola and dogs, since they play such an important role in so many people’s lives,” said Dallas Animal Services operation manager Dr. Cate McManus in a written statement.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there have been no reports of dogs or cats falling ill with Ebola, nor is there any evidence that pets can spread the virus to other people or pets.
WHO Declares Nigeria Ebola-Free
It’s been six weeks since a case of Ebola was reported in Nigeria, and the World Health Organization says the West African country is Ebola-free. WHO representative Rui Gama Vaz, speaking in the capital Abuja, called it a “spectacular success story.”
The outbreak in Nigeria, a country of 178 million people, started in July when a sick passenger flew from Liberia into Lagos–Nigeria’s largest and busiest city–and infected nearly a dozen health care workers and several others. Eight of 19 people infected in Nigeria died from the disease, but an aggressive response from public health officials succeeded in heading off an epidemic in the country. The Guardian describes the incredible effort behind Nigeria’s success:
“Nigeria set up a centralised emergency operations centre, staffed with many public health experts who work on the polio eradication effort. It also had a first-class virology laboratory affiliated to the Lagos University teaching hospital which turned around testing and diagnoses in 24 hours.
Generous government funds were allocated and quickly disbursed, says WHO. TV broadcasts by movie stars and social media were used to reassure and inform people. More than 150 people were sent out to look for contacts of people who had become ill and GPS systems in place to counter polio were used for tracking Ebola contacts.
According to a paper written by some of those involved, in the journal Eurosurveillance, the list of contacts reached 898 and they were not all in Lagos … In total, the contact tracers made 18,500 face-to-face visits to check on people for raised temperature, which can indicate the onset of symptoms, – not easy given the stigma around the disease. Their persistence – anybody who fled the monitoring teams was tracked down and returned to medical supervision – and disinfection of premises paid off.
… It was, said WHO, ‘world-class epidemiological detective work.'”
Senegal was declared Ebola-free by the WHO last week.
Liberia’s President Warns Ebola ‘Has No Borders’
Although the epidemic has been contained in Nigeria and Senegal, it continues to rage in worst-hit Liberia, where nearly half of the 4,500 deaths have been reported. On Sunday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf issued a plea for help from the international community, saying the disease has brought her country to a standstill.
She warned that the epidemic risks unleashing an economic catastrophe that will leave a “lost generation” of young West Africans. “This disease respects no borders,” she said. “We all have a stake in the battle against Ebola. It is the duty of all of us, as global citizens, to send a message that we will not leave millions of West Africans to fend for themselves.”
Outbreak Spreads To Last Unaffected District In Sierra Leone
On Thursday, health officials in Sierra Leone announced that the virus had infected at least two people in what was the last unaffected district in the country.
With 425 new cases recorded in just in the last week, Sierra Leone is one of three West African nations at the epicenter of the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola. But as Ebola spread across the rest of the country, locals in the far northern Koinadugu district had taken aggressive measures to keep the virus from crossing its borders. Residents limited their contact with the rest of the country and helped to ensure compliance with strict safety precautions, while guards with thermometers and disinfectant formed checkpoints restricting movement in and out.
And until this week, the district–located on the border of Guinea, where the current Ebola outbreak began and first spilled over into Sierra Leone– had escaped the reach of the outbreak. But disease surveillance officers said on Thursday that two of six samples taken from the village of Fankoya, where suspicious deaths had been recorded, tested positive on Wednesday.
“Last week, the Koinadugu district’s health team received word of people dying in the village of Fakonya, some 60 miles over very rough terrain from the town of district center of Kabala,” ABC News reported. “Some 15 people had died and then two of the six samples tested came back as positive for the virus — the deaths had originally been attributed to witchcraft.”
CDC To Issue New Ebola Protocols
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to revise protocols for health workers dealing with possible Ebola cases to include protective gear “with no skin showing.”
Past guidelines were based on the protocol developed by the World Health Organization for health workers “in the field” in rural areas of Africa. However, as Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, explained on Sunday, those conditions are quite different from the setting of the typical U.S. hospital, where healthcare workers may be more likely to come into contact with contaminated fluids while performing invasive procedures that are not possible in most African Ebola clinics.
“So there were parts about that protocol that left vulnerability, parts of the skin that were open,” Dr. Fauci said. “Very clearly, when you go into a hospital, have to intubate somebody, have all of the body fluids, you’ve got to be completely covered. So that’s going to be one of the things … to be complete covering with no skin showing whatsoever.”
While health officials had previously allowed hospitals some flexibility to use available covering when dealing with suspected Ebola patients, the new guidelines are expected to set a firmer standard: calling for full-body suits and hoods that protect worker’s necks, setting rigorous rules for removal of equipment and disinfection of hands, and calling for a “site manager” to supervise the putting on and taking off of equipment.
Pentagon To Form Ebola Rapid Response Team
The Pentagon reported on Sunday that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had ordered the formation of a 30-person support team from across the services to assist civilian medical professionals in the U.S. if needed to treat Ebola.
The team was to be formed by Northern Command’s Commander, Gen. Chuck Jacoby, and was to consist of 20 critical care nurses, five doctors trained in infectious disease and five trainers in infectious disease protocols. Once formed, the team would undergo up to a week of specialized training in infection control and personal protective equipment at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, then remain in “prepare to deploy” status for 30 days.
The team would not be sent to West Africa or other overseas location, and would “be called upon domestically only if deemed prudent by our public health professionals,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement Sunday.
The Department of Defense created an Ebola Task Force in August to better understand the situation in West Africa and risk to personnel on the ground. The Obama administration last month authorized up to 3,000 U.S. troops to the region to set up treatment and training centers and laboratories for Ebola diagnostics. There are currently 547 U.S. troops there, primarily in Liberia, according to the Pentagon.
European Union Seeking 1 Billion Euros To Fight Ebola
The AP says: “EU foreign ministers on Monday opened a week of talks so that their 28 leaders can agree by Friday on a package of measures, which should include anything from financial aid to common repatriation procedures, treatment facilities on site and training for health workers.”
‘Ebola Czar’ To Start On Wednesday
Administration officials reported today that Ron Klain, the White House’s Ebola response coordinator, will officially start his job on Wednesday. While Klain has been sharply criticized by the same Republican lawmakers who just last week for calling for the appointment of an Ebola czar, leading U.S. health officials welcomed his leadership expertise.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, today defended Klain, calling him an “excellent manager” who “has extraordinary experience.”