— An American aid worker infected with Ebola who’s being treated in Nebraska is now expected to make a full recovery, his doctors said Wednesday.

The medical team treating Rick Sacra also said it’s optimistic that the 51-year-old from Worcester, Massachusetts, will soon be able to leave the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

“However, we are still somewhat cautious because of the severity and unknown factors of this disease,” said Dr. Angela Hewlett, associate medical director of the isolation unit housing Sacra, who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia. “We know from experience how other patients look as their condition improves, but since we have so little experience treating patients with Ebola, that tempers our optimism a little bit.”

The unit’s medical director, Dr. Phil Smith, said an initial set of blood samples from Sacra sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a decreased amount of the virus in his blood over his first five days of treatment. Doctors are now awaiting results of a second set of blood samples.

“For Dr. Sacra to be discharged, there has to be two negative blood tests done 24 hours apart,” Hewlett said. “If the second set of blood samples continues to trend in the same way the first set did, we’ll be able to administer those tests fairly soon.”

Sacra, who’s been hospitalized in Omaha since Sept. 5, received an experimental drug for seven days, but is no longer receiving that treatment, the hospital said in a written release. Sacra also was given blood from a fellow doctor who battled the disease and recovered.

His wife, Debbie, and the medical team treating him have offered daily updates that seemed to show his condition steadily improving since he was wheeled into the hospital on a gurney.

“He looks great in person,” Smith said. “We’re hopeful the latest round of lab data reflects what we’re seeing in his room.”

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is believed to have sickened nearly 5,000 people, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The deadly virus also has reached Nigeria and Senegal. It has killed at least 2,400 people.

President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that he will order 3,000 U.S. military personnel to West Africa to try to help stem the spread, which occurs through direct contact with the bodily fluids of sick patients. The U.S. is also planning on delivering 17 treatment centers with 100 beds each to Liberia.

Meanwhile, British scientists say a former nurse has become the first person in the country to receive an experimental Ebola vaccine in an early trial to test its safety.

Ruth Atkins, 48, got the injection on Wednesday in Oxford, the first of 60 healthy volunteers in the U.K. who will receive the vaccine. It was developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline and targets the Zaire strain of Ebola, the cause of the ongoing outbreak in West Africa. A trial of the same vaccine has already begun in the U.S.

The vaccine is meant to spark the immune system’s production of Ebola antibodies. It does not contain any infectious material and shouldn’t trigger an Ebola infection, researchers said.

“Witnessing the events in Africa makes it clear that developing new drugs and vaccines against Ebola should now be an urgent priority,” said trial leader Adrian Hill of Oxford University.

Hill and colleagues hope the trial will finish by the end of 2014. If the vaccine is proven safe, it could then be used to vaccinate health workers in West Africa in a bigger trial to test its effectiveness.


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