A US House committee heard grim testimony today on West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, with an official of a leading aid group asserting that inaction by the rest of the world has let the disease get out of control.
“It’s clear to say that this disease is uncontained and out of control in West Africa,” said Ken Isaacs, vice president of program and government relations for the relief group Samaritan’s Purse (SP). “The international response has been a failure, and it’s important to understand that.”
He said SP’s experts believe the official epidemic case numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO) represent only 25% to 50% of the true numbers. Yesterday the WHO put the Ebola total for Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria at 1,711 cases and 932 deaths.
“The governments simply do not have the capacity to handle the crisis in their countries,” Isaacs added. “If a mechanism isn’t found to create a paradigm for the international community to get involved, the world will effectively relegate the containment of this disease to three of the poorest nations in world.”
Isaacs spoke at a hearing convened by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations. The session was streamed over the Web.
The subcommittee also heard from several other witnesses, including Tom Frieden, MD, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who called the epidemic unprecedented in multiple ways but asserted that it can be stopped by using tried-and-true public health interventions.
A daunting challenge
But Isaacs made the challenge sound daunting. His organization employs Keith Brantly, MD, one of two American health workers who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia and were recently flown back to the United States for treatment. He and Nancy Writebol of SIM (Service in Mission), the other patient, have been treated with an experimental drug and are said to be improving.
“There are bodies lying in the street in Liberia,” a nation that’s still trying to recover from a long civil war that left lingering tensions, Isaacs said. “There are gangs threatening to burn down hospitals.”
“It’s clear to me that Liberia is in a severe crisis that I believe threatens the stability of the society as it exists today,” he told the panel.
SP’s office in Liberia remains open, but “we’ve in fact suspended all other program activity,” he said. “We’re in the process now of backing up and reloading. We intend to come back.”
The committee also heard sobering observations from Frank Glover, MD, a urologist and medical missionary with SIM, who described the weakness of Liberia’s medical system.
Glover said 95% of expatriate doctors in Liberia have left, leaving only 50 doctors in the country. After the second of two doctors died of the disease, all the government hospitals shut down.
The country has only two Ebola treatment centers, one in Monrovia and one in Lofa, Glover reported. Many patients are dying of Ebola in community settings because of the lack of treatment facilities.
Unprecedented in five ways
The epidemic has previously been described as unprecedented, but Frieden expanded on the theme, saying that’s true on five counts.
“First it’s the largest outbreak ever. In a few weeks there’ll be more cases than in all previous outbreaks put together,” he said. “Second, it’s multi country. One of the epicenters is on the confluence of three different countries” (Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone).
“Third, this is the first outbreak in west Africa. And because of this it’s been a particular challenge. Fourth, many of the cases have been in urban areas, and there’s been spread in urban areas, and this is something we’ve not seen before.”
Fifth, Frieden said, “it’s the first time we’ve had to deal with it in the US.” Besides the presence of the two sick American medical workers, the nation has to worry about testing travelers who are sick after returning to the states from the affected countries, he explained.
He noted that the CDC has an Ebola test that’s relatively fast, and the agency is working to make it available to the Laboratory Response Network (LRN) within a few weeks. The network consists of state public health labs and other labs that can test for a wide range of diseases.
Frieden laid out what he called three basic facts about Ebola: “First, we can stop Ebola, we know how to do it. It will be a long and hard fight, the situation in Lagos [Nigeria] is particularly concerning. Second, we have to stop it at the source in Africa, that’s the only way to get control. Third, we have to stop it at the source through tried and true means, the core publih health interventions that work.”
He re-emphasized the CDC message that only people who have symptoms can spread Ebola to others and that transmission occurs only through close contact with body fluids.
To arrest an outbreak requires “meticulous isolation” of those infected, followed by equally carefully tracing and management of their contacts, Frieden said. If a contact gets a fever, the process must be started all over. “It’s laborious, it’s hard, it requires local knowledge, but it’s how Ebola is stopped.”
Isaacs, however, told the committee that that type of follow-up isn’t happening in Liberia. “I don’t think the ministry of health can fight this. There’s no contacts being run down in Liberia,” he said.
Frieden, who voiced confidence that the United States will not face a big Ebola outbreak, was asked if the virus can spread through sneezing or coughing.
“In medicine we often say, ‘Never say never,'” he replied. He noted that a Liberian official who died in Nigeria was sick on an airliner. So far no illnesses have been identified in his fellow passengers, but “we do have concerns that there could be transmission from someone who is very ill.”
“If someone is ill on an airplane, having a fever or bleeding, that might present a risk to someone who came in contact and didn’t take appropriate precautions,” he said.
Education helps fight the virus and overcome panic.
Friday, August 08, 2014 • Ebun James-DeKam
Let me preface my comments by saying responding efficiently and effectively to an Ebola outbreak would in all probability be a challenge for any country in the world. When the Ebola outbreak occurred in Guinea, our neighboring country early in 2014, we as a country seem to have missed the opportunity to ensure our preparedness should we have an outbreak in Sierra Leone. When the outbreak did occur, we were not prepared for it; the necessary PPEs (personal prevention equipment i.e. masks, goggles, gloves etc. were in short supply, testing centers and laboratories were not set up to handle testing for Ebola).
Medical staff not trained at first
Medical staff were not trained in proper use of the PPEs, Medical expertise with genuine knowledge and experience in dealing with Ebola were in extremely short supply. Tracing units had to be organized and trained, burial teams had to be organized and trained. Ambulances had to be procured and or refitted to accommodate only Ebola victims. The general population began to protest vigorously that regular patients and Ebola patients had to go to the same facility for medical attention. This put the uninfected population at higher risk.
Only after the outbreak occurred was there mass training of medical staff in government and private hospitals, treatment centers and isolation units/wards established. The rural population in Kailahun District, the first “hot spot” had not been sensitized and the Government and other first responders did not take into account traditional customs and rites related to caring for the sick and burying the dead.
Little sensitivity in dealing with customs
Added to that was the fact that the behavior of the Ministry of Health, accompanied by Military and Police, showed little sensitivity in dealing with the population directly affected. Rumors were plentiful as to the cause and role of the government in addressing the issue. In some cases, the outbreak and response was attributed to political dynamics (the outbreak occurred in the opposition party’s stronghold or heartland). There was a genuine lack of trust between those who desperately wanted to assist and those who desperately needed the assistance; this lack of trust developed into opposition and resistance dynamics that fed on and grew due to misinformation and rumors.
Ebola virus and response has reached crisis point
All the above has led to this point; the Ebola virus and response has reached crisis point. The government, as evidenced by the recent announcement of the National Public Health Emergency by the President (60 to 90 days in length), is attempting to launch a more effective and efficient response aimed at limiting the transfer of the Ebola Virus to other uninfected persons. A national response plan has been developed that clearly presents the resources available and needed and the gap between them. Under the national Public Health Emergency, movement of whole communities is been restricted and some may be quarantined. To ensure this and to enforce the new rules and regulations, the Military and Police have been empowered to assist and protect medical responders (government and NGOs) as they engage in response initiatives at the community level. There continues to be a steady increase in the number of confirmed cases and deaths, thankfully the number of survivors has also increased.
Role of CCSL and its parishes: prevention strategies
CCSL, with Funding from the ACT Alliance, launched and intensive sensitization and awareness building campaign in villages and communities within the Border Chiefdoms (bordering Guinea and Liberia). This campaign included training and collaborating health workers, sensitizing traditional authorities (Christian and Muslim leaders, Market Women’s associations, school teachers and students, transportation unions etc. We have purchased radio time for panel discussions conducted in local languages for community people with a “call in” segment where the radio audience can call in for clarification of issues. We have provided megaphones and given megaphones to town criers and village level Ebola Task Forces to continue spread Ebola messages, Posters and fliers were printed and distributed that illustrates (to a largely illiterate target group) origin of Ebola, signs and symptoms, containment and prevention strategies for persons and communities. CCSL is also a member of the National Ebola Task force that meets 3x a week, we are a member of the Communication Working Group and thereby have the opportunity to influence the Ebola Messages used to sensitise the general population. We receive almost daily Ebola updates on the progression of the disease and these are disseminated to our local and international partners.
Recently we have invited other religious bodies (Catholic mission, Pentecostal fellowship and different Muslim bodies) to address the Ebola crisis from a united perspective. This has now developed into the Religious Leaders Task Force on Ebola (RLTFE) which in turn has conducted more anti Ebola trainings in more communities, the have printed Stickers for vehicles and T-shirts announcing that Ebola can be prevented; Heads of churches and mosques speak to their congregation not only from the pulpit but on radio and television. Buckets of chlorinated water are now found at the entrance of many churches and mosques.
On the 31st of July the president had a meeting with the religious leaders in his office acknowledging our role as moral grantors, informed us of steps on the fight against Ebola, calling on us to work together
CCSL staff faces challenges in its engagement against further dissemination
One challenge for CCSL staff is the weather. It is the rainy season now and transport to rural communities is time consuming and hazardous due to the condition of the roads.Our vehicles (4 wheel drive and motorcycles) take a regular pounding. The other are the expenses. Accessing resources to cover the expenses for more training and sensitization at the Community level, training and sensitization of religious leaders, collaborating with Ministry or Health workers (assisting them with logistical issues)
Ebola affects all day life in Sierra Leone: lack of income
In those areas that are the epicenter, movement will now restricted this will affect trade and livelihood of the people, people live here on a day to day economy, that is they go to the market to sell and then get money to purchase what they need that day, or they go fishing, cut fire wood or charcoal, sell and buy basic household necessities. When movement is restricted, incomes and livelihoods will be affected.
The wellbeing of persons and access to medical services and health is disrupted. The Ebola unit is in the Government General Hospital in Kenema. I hear from staff that patients are apprehensive about going there for treatment when Ebola patients are being coming to the same facility when they are sick (vomiting and diarrhea).
Back to school in September?
Currently schools are on holidays, but the there is fear that in September they will not be open. This will retard or set back the educational process for our children. The attending danger of teenagers when they are left unsupervised with lots of time on their hands is the nightmares of mothers. Public exams have been postponed due to the Ebola outbreak and this this will affect the performance of pupils taking the exams in as much as schools have been dismissed since mid-June. The percentage of those passing the exams will decrease and this may affect students’ opportunity for future educational opportunities or employment. In all probability gains made related in decreasing the school “drop out” rate among students, especially female students, may be lost while teenage pregnancy may increase.
Grief for the children
Personally, I am emotional affected; though our war was considered the most brutal during its time, my fear now of the situation is worse than it was during the war. Simply because you cannot see the enemy, you cannot adequately protect yourself from it, just a handshake from a friend/ relative and you may be contacting an infected person and your likelihood of survival is quite low. Also as a Mother, I think about the number of children who would have lost their parents and because of that, possibly their link to good education at home and at school
It will take time to slow progression of disease
During the next couple of weeks, I expect a continued increase in the number of newly confirmed cases of Ebola and an increase in the number of deaths. I do expect increased resources being applied to the crisis but it will take time to slow the progression of the disease. As a nation we need to increase in the sensitization and awareness messages that result in empowering individuals and communities to rigorously implement the full range of Ebola prevention strategies leading to a decrease in the number of newly infected persons. We need to rebuild the trust between the Government medical professional and staff and the populace in rural and urban communities. We also need to ensure that the quantity and quality of the PPEs used by the Health professional is readily available for those who need them.
God bless all of you and thank you for your support. Continue to pray for the front line medical staff who are protecting us to the best of their ability and for all persons engaged in attempting to prevent the spread of this virus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the spread of Ebola in West Africa an international health emergency.
WHO officials said a coordinated international response was essential to stop and reverse the spread of the virus.
The announcement came after experts convened a two-day emergency meeting in Switzerland.
So far more than 960 people have died from Ebola in West Africa this year.
The United Nations health agency said the outbreak was an “extraordinary event”.
“The possible consequences of further international spread are particularly serious in view of the virulence of the virus,” it said in a statement.
More than 1,700 cases of Ebola have been reported in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan appealed for help for the countries hit by the “most complex outbreak in the four decades of this disease”.
She said there would be no general ban on international travel or trade.
Guinean Ebola survivor
A fifth year medical student in Guinea tells the BBC French Service about how she is being shunned since recovering from Ebola which she caught whilst working as an intern at a clinic in March:
We are stigmatised – you know when they look at us like that, even in my own family people are rejecting me. I live with my uncle – my parents are in the village. In the house I eat alone. I feel lonely.
When I felt better, I started going back to medical school. Many distanced themselves from me. Four of us used to sit together, but I ended up sitting by myself.
The treatment centre gave me a certificate showing I had been healed. I showed it to my teachers as I’d missed some assessments while sick. But I haven’t done the two exams. The head of department told me to stay at home and get treated. I can’t even get an internship.
However, states should be prepared to detect, investigate and manage Ebola cases, including at airports, she said.
Other recommendations include:
- Good surveillance to pick up potential cases
- Giving people in affected countries up-to-date information on risks
- Effective measures to manage risks to healthcare workers.
There were a number of challenges in affected countries, said the WHO. These include “very weak health system capacity” and lack of medical staff, laboratory technicians and protective clothing.
States of emergency are in effect in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
An H5N1 avian flu virus that killed a Canadian woman in January had two uncommon mutations that may have helped increase its ability to bind to human cells, researchers from Singapore and Canada reported yesterday in a letter in Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The woman, who had visited China before her illness in December, had neurologic symptoms and no known contact with poultry. She remains Canada’s only H5N1 patient.
The investigators note two previously reported mutations, R189K and G221R, in the hemagglutinin protein in the virus isolated from the patient. They write that both mutations are found in the immediate receptor-binding pocket, and G225R has been known to change specificity of an H3N2 virus toward human erythrocytes. The authors note that the two receptor-binding pocket mutations were not seen in the most closely related Asian H5N1 sequences.
They write, “Our results suggest that G225R could incur a relative predicted increase in binding to the human-like receptors. . . . The role of R193K is less clear with a slight predicted tendency of favoring avian-like receptors.”
Editor’s note: This story was revised on Aug 7, 2014, to correct the total number of Ebola cases and deaths reported by the WHO.
With the Ebola virus disease (EVD) situation in Nigeria worsening, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today that it has moved its emergency operations center (EOC) to its highest activation level, an action it last took during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic.
Meanwhile, countries including the United States and Saudi Arabia are following up on possible infections in travelers, with Spain announcing that it will bring a sick missionary priest in Liberia to Madrid for treatment, according to media reports.
Amid the other developments, the numbers of infections in West African countries hit by the outbreak grew steadily between Aug 2 and 4, with 108 new cases, along with 45 deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today. The overall totals reached 1,711 cases and 932 deaths.
In addition, a WHO emergency committee today began discussing whether the unfolding disease threat amounts to an international public helath emergency.
CDC invokes top EOC level
The CDC EOC has moved to level 1 activation, reserved for the largest-scale responses that require substantial agency-wide efforts, CDC spokesman Tom Skinner told CIDRAP News.
“Our movement to level 1 activation is appropriate, given the significance of this outbreak, the extension to Nigeria, and the potential to affect many lives,” he said.
The CDC uses the EOC to monitor and coordinate its response to public health threats that occur in the United States and other countries. Its EOC coordinates CDC staff deployment and manages equipment and supply needs of responders, and can move medications, samples, and personnel within 2 hours for domestic needs and 6 hours for international missions.
The EOC has responded to more than 50 public health threats since it was established in 2001 in the wake of the terrorist and anthrax attacks. Recent examples include activations at lower levels for the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the 2010 earthquake and cholera outbreak in Haiti.
Quickly evolving Nigeria developments
Of the latest cases reported to the WHO, five were in Nigeria, which now has 9 cases and 1 death, with most of the cases related to a Liberian man who started having symptoms during an airline flight and died a few days later on Jul 25 in Lagos, a port that is the country’s most populous city. His EVD case was the first detected in Nigeria.
At the end of July when the travel-linked case was detected, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden, MD, called the event a significant development in the outbreak.
The WHO said Nigeria’s government is following up on contacts of the index case, and that the country urgently needs clinical support as a treatment center is being established. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, MD, MPH, said that as a result of her recent meetings in Guinea with officials from the outbreak region, Nigeria is among the four countries in line for intensified response efforts, along with Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
Nigeria’s health minister today confirmed five new Ebola cases in Lagos, one of which was in a nurse who took care of the country’s first patient and has now died from the disease, AllAfrica news reported. Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said all of the Nigerians diagnosed so far with EVD were primary contacts of the first victim. Earlier reports said the man had helped care for his sick sister in Liberia, who was first thought to have malaria but was later found to have EVD. En route to Nigeria, the man’s flight took him to Togo and Ghana, which has prompted tracking of airline passengers and workers who may have been exposed to the virus.
In a related development, the CDC yesterday issued a level 2 (yellow) travel alert for Nigeria because opf Ebola activity there. At that level, the CDC recommends that visitors take enhanced precautions, such as avoiding contact with blood and body fluids of people who are sick with the virus.
A day earlier the CDC raised the travel health alerts for Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone to the highest warning (red), which recommends no nonessential travel to the area.
Officials on alert for travel-linked cases
Elsewhere, suspicious illnesses in air travelers prompted a scare yesterday at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, and health officials in Saudi Arabia are waiting on test results on a man who had viral hemorrhagic fever symptoms after traveling to Sierra Leone.
At JFK Airport, authorities held an Etihad Airlines flight that arrived from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) yesterday after a report that a sick passenger was on board, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported yesterday. CDC officials quickly determined that the passenger had a seizure, and no other measures were needed, a CDC spokeswoman told the WSJ. No EVD cases have been detected in the UAE.
The sick traveler was a 2-year-old girl who had vomiting and diarrhea, the New York Daily News reported today. Paramedics transported the child to Jamaica Hospital for observation, and passengers were allowed to leave the plane, which had landed in the late afternoon.
Meanwhile, a man in Saudi Arabia whose suspicious symptoms were reported yesterday by that country’s health ministry has died, the Saudi Ministry of Health (MOH) said today. The 40-year-old man got sick after a trip to Sierra Leone, sought care at Jeddah hospital on Aug 4, and was isolated at a tertiary care center.
The MOH said the man died this morning and that the cause of his infection is still under investigation. Officials submitted samples to a reference lab in the United States as recommended by the WHO, and additional samples were sent to an accredited lab in Germany.
A later BBC report, which appears to be based on an Arabic version of an MOH statement, said the man died of cardiac arrest, but it didn’t say if tests concluded whether he had EVD.
The man’s body will be prepared for burial at the hospital, observing both Islamic practices and international guidelines for patients with infectious disease such as EVD, the MOH said.
In another recent development, Morocco’s health ministry has ruled out EVD in a Liberian traveler—a 44-year-old man–who died at the Casablanca airport on Jul 29, according to a Jul 31 machine-translated statement on the ministry Web site. It said the man died from a heart attack and was tested because he was from one of the EVD outbreak countries.
In an earlier media report, an official with Morocco’s interior ministry said the man had an EVD infection.
Spain to fly sick missionary home
Spain’s defense ministry said yesterday that a military plane will fly to Liberia to pick up an elderly Spanish missionary who is sick with EVD , Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. The ministry did not say when the man would return to Spain.
The man is a 75-year-old Catholic priest who has worked at a hospital in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. He works for an aid organization called Juan Ciudad ONGD. Five other missionaries are also quarantined at the hospital, two of whom, a woman from Congo and another from Guinea, have EVD infections.
The announcement follows the recent medical evacuation of two American medical missionaries from Liberia’s capital. They are Kent Brantly, MD, and Nancy Writebol, both of whom had been working at an EVD treatment center when they got sick. Both are being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Brantly, who arrived on Aug 2, is improving, and his wife has been able to see him and reports that he is in good spirits, Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief group based in North Carolina, said yesterday in a statement. It said efforts are underway to evacuate all but the most essential personnel, with timelines and destinations kept private to respect their privacy. The group said none are sick, that its precautions exceed those recommended by the CDC, and that it will continue to monitor their health.
Writebol, who arrived at Emory yesterday, is still very weak but shows slow improvement, Bruce Johnson, president of SIM USA, a Christian aid group that also staffed the Liberian EVD treatment center, said yesterday in a statement. He said she was taken to the plane on a stretcher in Monrovia, but was able to stand up and walk with assistance onto the plane. News footage of her arrival at Emory yesterday showed Writebol being moved on a stretcher.
WHO updates outbreak numbers
The WHO said today that between Aug 2 and Aug 4 it received reports of 108 new EVD infections, along with 45 more deaths, from the four West African countries battling the outbreak.
Liberia reported 48 cases and 27 deaths, boosting its totals to 516 infections and 282 fatalities. The country’s case count now surpasses that of Guinea, where the outbreak began in March. However, of all of the affected countries, Guinea still has the most deaths.
Sierra Leone reported 45 new cases and 13 deaths, and with 691 illnesses reported so far, it has the most EVD cases of the four outbreak countries. The latest fatalities nudge Sierra Leone’s total to 286.
Guinea health officials reported 10 new cases and 5 deaths, boosting its overall numbers to 495 infections, of which 363 were fatal.
Nigeria reported 5 new cases during the time span, increasing its outbreak tally to 9 infections and one death, which does not include the nurse just reported by the country’s health ministry.
The WHO’s emergency committee will wrap up its discussions tomorrow, and soon afterward will announce if the developments in West Africa constitute a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). Declaring a PHEIC would trigger a set of measures to curb the international spread of the disease. The 13-member group is headed by Sam Zaramba, MD, a surgeon and former director general of health services for Uganda’s health ministry. The group also has seven advisers.
Ebola has also gotten the attention of US lawmakers, who tomorrow will explore current international efforts to battle the world’s worst EVD outbreak. A subcommittee of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs will hold the hearing at 2 pm, which will be Webcast.
CDC Director Frieden and other US government officials are on one witness panel, and two officials from Samaritan’s Purse and SIM USA will testify during a second panel.
Two US aid workers that contracted the Ebola virus in Liberia are said to be improving after receiving an experimental treatment, ZMapp, which had never been tested in humans before. While we cannot be certain that ZMapp is attributable to this improvement, the treatment yielded promising results in nonhuman primate studies. Rather than being a synthetic drug, ZMapp is actually an antibody therapy consisting of a cocktail of three different antibodies to the Ebola virus. And it’s made in a rather intriguing way- within plants.
Inside massive greenhouses in Owensboro, Kentucky, thousands of tobacco plants are being grown by a company called Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP). These plants, called bioreactor plants, are being used to produce a variety of proteins for pharmaceutical products, for example vaccines and antibodies against certain disease causing organisms. KBP has actually been selected to produce therapeutic proteins for a variety of health threats, for example flu, rabies, HIV and HPV.
How does it work? Researchers start by inserting a desirable gene, for example a gene encoding a particular antibody, into a plant virus. The tobacco plant is then infected with the virus and consequently infected cells start to produce the proteins which are eventually extracted and purified into a serum. This is similar to how we use bacteria as protein making factories, for example by inserting the human insulin gene into E.coli in order to produce synthetic insulin for individuals with diabetes.
Bioreactor plants are proving to be extremely useful in the production of various therapeutic proteins. They’re faster, more efficient and cheaper to use than traditional methods that require complex bioreactors. Tobacco plants also grow quickly which makes scaling-up production easy.
Although ZMapp has not yet been approved for use as human trials have not been conducted, according to Kentucky.com KBP has started increasing production in anticipation of further trials this year.
Florida health officials yesterday announced two more locally acquired chikungunya cases, lifting the total to four.
One of the cases is the first to be reported in St Lucie County, in an adult who lives in a residential area north of Dan McCarty School in Fort Pierce, the Florida Department of Health (FDH) said in a statement. The patient did not need to be hospitalized and is recovering. The county’s mosquito control department launched aggressive efforts on Jul 27 in response to the new case.
The other case is Palm Beach County’s second, according to a separate FDH statement. No details were available about the patient. The confirmation of the second infection prompted the county to raise the mosquito warning level from “advisory” to “alert,” signifying that the virus is likely in the mosquito population.
On Jul 17 the FDH announced its first locally acquired chikungunya cases, the first such infections on the US mainland. One was in Dade County, in addition to Palm Beach County’s first case.
Florida also has reported 115 travel-related cases, most of them linked to destinations in the Caribbean region, which is experiencing a large epidemic. At the national level, 398 travel-linked cases have been reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
West Africa’s worsening Ebola outbreak prompted announcements today that the World Health Organization and its partners, including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are stepping up efforts to battle the disease.
The CDC also issued a travel warning for Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia that advises against nonessential travel to the area, based on the deteriorating outbreak situation.
In its latest update yesterday, the WHO said new cases and deaths have been reported in the three countries, with the identification of an air-travel-linked case in Nigeria as a significant new development. The Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak is by far the biggest and deadliest one ever recorded and is causing havoc in the affected countries and posing a big threat to neighboring countries.
In yesterday’s update, the WHO said 1,323 infections have been reported, 729 of them fatal.
$100 million response plan
Though the threat of EVD to regions outside of Africa is considered low, health officials in other countries are gearing up to identify, treat, and quickly contain travel-linked cases, the WHO said in today’s statement.
The WHO said Director-General Margaret Chan, MD, MPH, will meet with presidents of the affected nations tomorrow to launch a joint $100 million response plan as part of an intensified effort to bring the outbreak under control. She said the scale of the outbreak and the threat it poses require taking the response effort to a new level.
“The countries have identified what they need, and WHO is reaching out to the international community to drive the response plan forward,” she said in a statement.
The area needs several hundred more personnel to help with overstretched treatment facilities. Hundreds of aid workers are in the area, and the WHO has more than 120 staff in the locations. The WHO said the greatest needs are health workers, epidemiologists, social mobilization experts, logisticians, and data managers.
Components of the new plan will draw on lessons learned in other outbreaks, focusing on stopping transmission with evidence-based steps and preventing the spread to neighboring at-risk countries.
CDC efforts ‘surge’
At a media briefing today, CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, said the agency is surging its efforts to help with the worsening outbreak and will send 50 more disease specialists to help with tasks such as setting up emergency operations centers and strengthening lab networks. Some CDC experts have already been in the outbreak area helping establish and run data systems.
He said the outbreak is complex and spread across a large area in a region that has never grappled with EVD before. Two main challenges are that the outbreak is occurring in areas where many health systems aren’t highly functional and that people in some areas don’t understand the disease and have reacted with hostility and violence against responders.
Turning the tide won’t be quick or easy and could take 3 to 6 months, even if things go smoothly, Frieden said.
The CDC sees little risk to the US population and is confident that there will be no significant spread in the country, even if some travel-related cases are detected here, he said. “Any hospital with an ICU [intensive care unit] can isolate patients.”
The agency decided to raise the travel warning level after it became clear that overburdened health facilities in the area might not be able to treat travelers who are sick or injured and that people seeking treatment at the facilities might be exposed to the virus. Frieden added that recommending nonessential travel also frees up local health workers to focus more on the outbreak.
Reporters asked Frieden if special measures will be taken in light of an African leaders’ summit slated for next week that will draw contingents from about 50 African nations to Washington, DC. He said federal health officials are looking at all options for making sure all the travelers get healthcare if they get sick.
He said it’s difficult to monitor air travelers coming from African destinations, because there are few direct flights—most arrive in the United States on connecting flights from other countries. Though quarantine officials are on guard around the clock at US airports, Frieden said screening travelers boarding planes in their home countries is a more effective strategy for curbing travel-related cases.
Though the CDC’s global health budget is very tight, the agency and other parts of the US government will help fund the WHO’s new joint plan for battling the outbreak, he said.
In other developments, two Americans who contracted EVD while working in a Liberian treatment center during a joint aid group project remain in stable condition, though the condition of Kent Brantly, MD, slightly worsened overnight, according to a statement today from Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian-based relief group headquartered in North Carolina.
It said Brantly has received blood from a 14-year-old Ebola survivor that the doctor had cared for. Serum from recovered patients contains antibodies against the disease and has been used for other diseases, such as H5N1 avian influenza.
When asked about the situation at today’s briefing, Frieden said the CDC doesn’t have any details about the treatment Brantly received, and while serum treatment has been used for other infectious diseases, it’s not clear if it would be effective for EVD.
Samaritan’s Purse also said it would evacuate all but the most essential personnel to their home countries over the weekend and that none of the workers returning home are sick with the disease.
Media reports said Brantly and Nancy Writebol, the other health worker who is sick, would be flown back to the United States for treatment. At the media briefing today, Frieden said the decision to bring sick employees back rests with the aid organizations and that the CDC is prepared to assist.
Sierra Leone health emergency
Also, Sierra Leone’s president yesterday declared a public health emergency, which frees up new measures to battle the outbreak, Reuters reported today. President Ernest Bai Koroma said sick patients will be isolated at home and authorities will conduct house-to-house searches for contacts that may have been exposed to the virus.
Outbreak responders have had a tough time tracing contacts, because in some instances families have been hiding patients and sometimes forcibly removing their loved ones from hospitals and treatment centers.
A few days ago, Liberia declared a national emergency and announced the closure of some of its border crossings.
Meanwhile, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered the country’s schools to close for 30 days to curb the spread of the disease, FARS News Agency (FNA) reported today. She also added that the country would initially allocate $5 million to help with the region’s fight against the disease.
31 JULY 2014 ¦ GENEVA/CONAKRY – The Director-General of WHO and presidents of west African nations impacted by the Ebola virus disease outbreak will meet Friday in Guinea to launch a new joint US$ 100 million response plan as part of an intensified international, regional and national campaign to bring the outbreak under control.
“The scale of the Ebola outbreak, and the persistent threat it poses, requires WHO and Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to take the response to a new level, and this will require increased resources, in-country medical expertise, regional preparedness and coordination,” says Dr Chan. “The countries have identified what they need, and WHO is reaching out to the international community to drive the response plan forward.”
The Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak Response Plan in West Africa identifies the need for several hundred more personnel to be deployed in affected countries to supplement overstretched treatment facilities. Hundreds of international aid workers, as well as 120-plus WHO staff, are already supporting national and regional response efforts. But more are urgently required. Of greatest need are clinical doctors and nurses, epidemiologists, social mobilization experts, logisticians and data managers. The plan also outlines the need to increase preparedness systems in neighbouring nations and strengthen global capacities.
Key elements of the new plan, which draws on lessons learnt from other outbreaks, include strategies to:
stop transmission of Ebola virus disease in the affected countries through scaling up effective, evidence-based outbreak control measures; and
prevent the spread of Ebola virus disease to the neighbouring at-risk countries through strengthening epidemic preparedness and response measures.
WHO and affected and neighbouring countries will renew efforts to mobilize communities and strengthen communication so that people know how to avoid infection and what to do if they fear they may have come into contact with the virus.
Improving prevention, detecting and reporting suspected cases, referring people infected with the disease for medical care, as well as psychosocial support, are key. The plan also emphasizes the importance of surveillance, particularly in border areas, of risk assessments and of laboratory-based diagnostic testing of suspected cases. Also highlighted is the need to improve ways to protect health workers, a scarce resource in all three countries, from infection.
Finally, reinforcing coordination of the overall health response is critical. In particular, this includes strengthening capacities of the WHO-run Sub-regional Outbreak Coordination Centre, which was opened this month in Conakry, Guinea, to consolidate and streamline support to West African countries by all major partners and assist in resource mobilization.
The scale of the ongoing outbreak is unprecedented, with approximately 1323 confirmed and suspected cases reported, and 729 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since March 2014.
(Reuters) – China has sealed off parts of its northwestern city of Yumen after a resident died of bubonic plague last week, state media reported on Tuesday.
A 38-year-old victim was infected by a marmot, a wild rodent, and died on July 16. Several districts of the city of about 100,000 people in Gansu province were subsequently turned into special quarantine zones, Xinhua said.
It said 151 people who came into direct contact with the victim were also placed in quarantine. None have so far shown any signs of infection, the news agency said.
The city had set aside 1 million yuan ($161,200) for emergency vaccinations, the Jiuquan Daily, a local newspaper, said on Tuesday.
The plague is a bacterial disease spread by the fleas of wild rodents such as marmots. While the disease can be effectively treated, patients can die 24 hours after the initial infection, the World Health Organisation says.
Outbreaks in China have been rare in recent years, and most have happened in remote rural areas of the west. China’s state broadcaster said there were 12 diagnosed cases and three deaths in the province of Qinghai in 2009, and one in Sichuan in 2012.
Beijing’s disease control centre sought to dispel worries about a wider outbreak of the disease in China, saying on its website (www.bjcdc.org) that the risk of the disease spreading to the capital was minimal.
Ebola, the highly lethal hemorrhagic fever that can cause people to bleed out of their eyes and ears, is sweeping through West Africa. The current strain is unrelated to those which caused previous outbreaks in Uganda and Congo, meaning health officials are dealing with a new source, which is likely a bat or ape or some other wild animal. But the real root cause may be deforestation, or rather the activities and proximities to wildlife that accompany it.
The current Ebola outbreak has caused over 500 deaths, making it the largest outbreak on record and prompting an official with Doctors Without Borders to call the epidemic “out of control.” The disease is spread easily through touch, and the best way to limit its spread is to quarantine the sick. But Ebola’s early symptoms are similar enough to other tropical diseases like malaria that patients often aren’t quarantined quickly enough.
The Associated Press reports:
“We’re under massive time pressure: The longer it takes to find and follow up with people who have come in contact with sick people, the more difficult it will be to control the outbreak,” said Anja Wolz, emergency coordinator for the group, also referred to by its French name Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Quarantining the sick, though, doesn’t necessarily limit the possibility of future outbreaks. Strains of the virus are carried in bats, apes, and other wild animals. As Africa’s frontier regions develop, more and more people are brought into closer contact with the carriers. Unlike smallpox, diseases can’t be eradicated just by treating humans alone, and finding all non-human carriers is so large a task as to be untenable.
Terrence McCoy, reporting for the Washington Post:
Researchers behind the article in the Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research found deforested regions where locals hunted, dug for gold and farmed were most susceptible to an outbreak. The findings landed upon some dismal conclusions: The activities locals depend on the most are also what puts them at the most risk of contracting Ebola.
Ebola isn’t the only disease that’s associated with people living closer to wildlife—yellow fever, Lyme disease, chikungunya, and others are also prevalent at the wildland-urban interface. While Ebola is contained in Africa for the time being, mosquito-borne chikungunya is sweeping the Americas, with over 350,000 suspected cases (pdf). For more on chikungunya, check out NOVA Next contributor Carrie Arnold’s riveting read on the peripatetic virus’s travels around the globe.
How eating bats, washing victims’ bodies, and a lack of doctors are all contributing to the worst Ebola outbreak of all time.
The worst Ebola virus outbreak ever is ravaging Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. So far, the disease has killed 670 people and infected more than 1,000, including an American doctor and aid worker.
One reason why Ebola is so terrifying is that there’s no cure, and the fatality rate is roughly 60 to 90 percent. Those who catch it and don’t get treated early will very likely die. Since 2008, past outbreaks of Ebola have killed a few dozen people at most.
So, what makes this one so much worse?
Past outbreaks of the virus have been linked to people hunting gorillas and chimps for food, or eating dead apes they find in the jungle. There are no gorillas in West Africa, so specialists think this outbreak is linked to fruit bats. In 2007 in Uganda, an Ebola outbreak was traced to “a couple of kids playing with fruit bats in a cave. They came home with two dead fruit bats and the mothers cooked them,” said Dr. Estrella Lasry, a tropical medicine advisor to Doctors Without Borders.
Researchers still don’t know the exact cause of this particular outbreak, but it might have to do with the local practice of eating bats for food, according to Jonathan Epstein, an epidemiologist at EcoHealth Alliance. “It’s unclear whether it occurred due to butchering a bat, exposure to bat bodily fluids, or eating some food or fruit that was contaminated by saliva, urine, or feces from the bat, which may contain Ebola virus,” he said. Pig farms in Africa also often attract bats, which also may have been a cause.
Once the infected person begins to show symptoms—flu-like aches, nausea, and vomiting—local customs continue to play a big role. There aren’t enough doctors or supplies available to treat all the Ebola patients in the area, but even if there were, many locals are suspicious of Western medicine.
“In this outbreak, there’s been intense mistrust of Western health care workers,” Epstein said. “You’re battling a lot of perceptions and convictions. There are local remedies that people have trusted. They will turn to a local witch doctor in the village.”
If the person dies, tradition holds that the body should be washed by the family, which inadvertently creates new opportunities for exposure. The family member might then prepare a meal for the rest of the funeral party, further increasing the odds that infection will spread.
When the infected person dies in a medical tent, meanwhile, the body is usually disinfected and buried or burned, not returned to the family. This causes enormous agony for the families—“it enhances grief if people aren’t allowed to perform the rituals that are important to them,” Epstein said. “So if someone dies, they’ll secret the body away.”
Then there’s the fact that because Ebola is so deadly, those who enter a Western-established medical tent might never come back. That heightens fears among locals that Western doctors might be worsening the outbreak. People start to hide their sick relatives, who bleed out at home and infect others. One Sierra Leone woman fled a hospital after testing positive for the Ebola virus. Other communities are preventing doctors from entering entirely.
“So why don’t people avoid the bats in general?” I asked.
“Eating wildlife is a generational practice,” Epstein said. “It’s something people have done forever. There isn’t necessarily an association with the animals they’re hunting or killing and getting sick. Even if they’re told by local doctors that bushmeat is making them sick, there’s a strong belief that the illness is due to black magic or spiritual power.”
It’s tempting to blame local customs, but less so when you realize that Ebola is an extremely rare virus, and food options in the bush can be extremely scarce. One might eat five or 10 or 100 bats and be fine, but the 101st might be lethal.
Think of it this way: “We know there’s mad cow disease, but does that stop you from eating hamburger?” said Sarah Olson, a wildlife epidemiologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society.
“They’ve probably never seen Ebola, and they’re balancing that against a need to feed their family,” she added. “The risk of contracting it is very low, but when you multiply that across many interactions, occasionally it’s going to happen.”