Ebola outbreak in Africa; Is there risk to US?
NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. health officials are monitoring the Ebola outbreak in Africa but say the risk of the deadly germ spreading to the United States is remote.
The Centers for Disease Control on Monday sent a health alert to U.S. doctors about the outbreak. There are no travel restrictions to the West Africa region hit by the disease. But last month, the CDC issued a mid-level travel advisory for health workers.
Two American aid workers in Liberia have tested positive for the virus and are being treated there. The family of one worker - a doctor - recently returned to the U.S. for a visit. The CDC said they are fine.
The West African airline that transported a passenger sick with Ebola last week says it's now suspending flights to the two cities hardest hit by the disease.
A statement from Asky Airlines said Tuesday that it was temporarily halting flights to the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone. A man who boarded a flight in Monrovia, Liberia last week took two Asky flights before arriving in Lagos, Nigeria, where he later died.
Liberia has now stepped up security measures at its airport but at the time there was no passenger screening. The World Health Organization says the risk of someone contracting Ebola from a fellow passenger is very low, and it has not recommended any travel restrictions.
Officials stressed people are not contagious until they show symptoms, and the stricken doctor's family left Liberia days before he got sick. The doctor, Kent Brantly, is fighting for his own survival in an isolation unit on the outskirts of Monrovia.
The Texas-trained doctor says he is "terrified" of the disease progressing further, according to Dr. David Mcray, the director of maternal-child health at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, where Brantly completed a four-year residency.
"I'm praying fervently that God will help me survive this disease," Brantly said in an email Monday to Mcray. He also asked that prayers be extended for Nancy Writebol, an American co-worker who also has fallen ill.
Brantly "went into Ebola exhausted" from treating Ebola patients, Mcray said after speaking with him Monday. His prognosis is grave and efforts to evacuate him to Europe for treatment have been thwarted because of concerns expressed by countries he would have to fly over en route to any European destination, Mcray said.
There is no known cure for Ebola, which begins with symptoms including fever and sore throat and escalates to vomiting, diarrhea and internal bleeding. The disease spreads through direct contact with blood and other bodily fluids as well as indirect contact with "environments contaminated with such fluids," according to the World Health Organization.
Still, colleagues and family members said Brantly, 33, knew of the risks associated with working in one of the world's poorest countries during an epidemic and did not regret his choice.
"Kent prepared himself to be a lifetime medical missionary," said his mother, Jan Brantly. "His heart is in Africa."
Last October, Brantly began a two-year fellowship with Samaritan's Purse, a Christian aid group, to serve as a general practitioner, delivering babies and performing surgeries at a mission hospital in the Monrovia suburb of Paynseville.
When Ebola spread from neighboring Guinea into Liberia, Brantly and his wife, Amber, re-evaluated their commitment, but decided to stay in West Africa with their children, ages 3 and 5.
Brantly directed the hospital's Ebola clinic, wearing full-body protective gear in the Equatorial heat for upward of three hours at a time to treat patients.
He undertook humanitarian work while studying medicine at Indiana University, working in impoverished, inner-city neighborhoods, according to a medical school spokeswoman.
During his four-year family medicine residency, he accompanied Mcray on medical missions to Uganda and earthquake-devastated Haiti. He also spent several weeks working in Tanzania, where a cousin lives and works as a medical missionary, Mcray said.
Before contracting Ebola, Brantly and his family "really enjoyed Liberia."
"They were very well-adjusted," said Ken Kauffeldt, the country director for Samaritan's Purse in Monrovia.
Liberia's health ministry is investigating how Brantly contracted the virus.
"We're trying to figure out what went wrong because he was always very careful," said Tolbert Nyenswah, an assistant health minister in Monrovia.
Amber Brantly and the children departed for a wedding in the U.S. just days before Brantly fell ill and quarantined himself.
They are currently staying with family in Abilene and, while not subject to quarantine, are monitoring their temperatures for an early sign of viral infection, a City of Abilene spokeswoman said.