Ebola first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks in Nzara, Sudan, and in the Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter was in a village situated near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.
Following the first ever Ebola patient on American soil, Dr. Kent Brantly, 33, Nancy Writebol, 59, landed Tuesday at Dobbins Air Force Base. After traveling from Monrovia, Liberia, Writebol headed for treatment in a special isolation unit at Emory University Hospital, located near the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA.
The Emory isolation unit, designed to optimize care for those with highly infectious diseases, is one of only four of its kind in the United States.
Just as the groundbreaking arrival of both Ebola patients, another first is the use of an experimental drug in their treatment, ZMapp, developed by a San Diego-based biotech firm. Despite never being subjected to clinical trials, the medication is garnering much attention.
Five days ago in Liberia, Brantly’s condition deteriorated so rapidly that he called his wife to say goodbye. Stored at subzero temperatures, three vials of ZMapp were flown into Liberia specifically for both now-famous patients. Relief groups in Africa caring for Writebol and Brantly have said the condition of each improved after they received the never before used drug. Doctors, however, cannot confirm whether the drug works.
Developed with U.S. military funding by the San Diego-based company, ZMapp uses antibodies harvested from monkeys and lab animals previously injected with parts of the Ebola virus. Currently, tobacco plants in Kentucky are being used to make the medicine. However, the monetary costs, of which the tab is still running, have been substantial.
Bruce Johnson, President of SIM USA, the aid group with which both patients worked under in Liberia, stated costs for the care and transportation of Writebol and Brantly have topped $2 million, with about $1 million spent by SIM USA and more than $1 million by Samaritan’s Purse.
Price tag aside, both patients currently are receiving the best care money can buy. David Writebol, Nancy’s husband, remains in Liberia, where he said his wife’s care, just as it has been thus far in the U.S., was extraordinary.
“It’s not like having a nurse come in every hour to fluff up your pillow,” he said in his statement. “It’s more like going into a nuclear reactor. The suits are clumsy, hot and uncomfortable. But it was like watching the love of Christ take place right before your eyes.”
“A week ago we were thinking about making funeral arrangements for Nancy,” David Writebol, said in a statement read by the president of SIM USA.
Speaking of his wife’s improvement under her care in Atlanta, GA, “Now we have a real reason to be hopeful,” David Writebol said.
Since February, Ebola has killed close to 900 people, making it the worst outbreak of its kind in recorded history. According to experts, the death rate in the current epidemic is about 60 percent.
The infected patients are here in our backyard, so now what?
Being a former corpsman, I called a close friend, Dr. Carl Kesgen, another former corpsman with U.S. Marine S.T.A. Platoon (Scout Sniper) to get his opinion.
“It’s not like patients infected with Ebola can cough or sneeze and give you the disease,” he told me.
Transmission of EBV
No documented airborne transmission of Ebola infection exists. Moreover, Ebola is spread by close contact with blood and other bodily fluids (including embalming of an infected dead person) or contact with contaminated medical equipment, particularly needles and syringes. With that being said, it is not entirely clear how the detailed mechanisms of Ebola work.
What are your thoughts on allowing these patients on U.S. soil?
(Featured Image Courtesy: John Spink, AP)