At least 10 American aid workers possibly exposed to the deadly Ebola virus are being flown to the United States from Sierra Leone for observation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Saturday.
They will be transported by non-commercial air transport and will be housed near the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, or Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, the CDC said in a statement.
Another U.S. healthcare worker who contracted Ebola while working at a treatment center in Sierra Leone arrived at the NIH on Friday and is in serious condition, the NIH said. It is not clear how the person became infected, the CDC said, and health officials are concerned that the 10 evacuees could have had a similar exposure. Some of them also had contact with the infected patient.
“As a result of CDC’s ongoing investigation, CDC and the State Department are facilitating the return of additional American citizens who had potential exposure to the index patient or exposures similar to those that resulted in the infection of the index patient,” the statement said.
According to the CDC, none of the individuals who are being flown back to the United States have shown any symptoms of the virus. The agency said all 10 individuals will follow the center’s recommended monitoring and movement guidelines during the 21-day incubation period. If someone shows symptoms, they will be transported to an Ebola treatment center for evaluation and care, the CDC said.
On Friday, the CDC sent a team to Sierra Leone to investigate how the healthcare worker became exposed, and determine who else might have been in contact with the infected person. As the investigation continues, the CDC said there may be more Americans evacuated from Africa.
Also on Friday, British health officials said that four contacts of a British military health worker recently infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone and undergoing treatment in London arrived back in the United Kingdom. Three of the contacts have already been evaluated and discharged to monitoring based on standard protocols, according to a statement from Public Health England (PHE). One is still at Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.
In a separate incident, a sixth British healthcare worker serving in Sierra Leone arrived in Britain on Friday for evaluation at the Royal Free Hospital after a needle-stick injury.
Healthcare workers are at especially high risk of catching Ebola, which is spread in bodily fluids. Since the outbreak began, more than 800 healthcare workers have been infected in West Africa and nearly 500 have died. Sierra Leone has been hit particularly hard: an estimated 10 percent of the country’s entire physician workforce has been killed by the virus during the 2014-2015 outbreak.
The death toll from the outbreak has now surpassed 10,000 out of 24,000 cases across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The epidemic has drastically slowed in Liberia, which hasn’t recorded a case in more than two weeks.But nearly a year after the first Ebola case was officially confirmed, the epidemic is still out of control in Guinea and Sierra Leone. Both countries continue to record more than 50 new cases each week and the WHO has warned that the upcoming rainy season will complicate response efforts, making it harder to carry out essential infection control activities like contact tracing and community surveillance.