UK Ebola survivor to help U.S. patient
London — A British nurse who survived Ebola has traveled to the United States to donate blood to an American still battling the disease, an experimental measure some scientists think can help patients fight off the virus.
British nurse William Pooley was one of those infected while working in Sierra Leone and was flown back to London in August for treatment, where he recovered. The Foreign Office said Thursday that it had arranged for Pooley to get an emergency passport to fly quickly to the U.S. — his previous passport was burned as part of efforts to stop further transmission of the disease.
An Ebola outbreak that has struck Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal is believed to have sickened nearly 5,000 people, about half of whom have died. There is no licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola, but doctors have tried out novel drugs and treatments on a handful of patients in this outbreak.
A French nurse for Doctors Without Borders in Monrovia was being flown to Paris on Thursday from Liberia, where she was infected. The woman, who first showed symptoms on Tuesday, was conscious and being taken to a hospital prepared to treat Ebola patients. Officials declined to comment on how she would be treated.
Since the Ebola outbreak began, at least seven international health workers have been taken abroad for treatment.
But with no recognized drugs, public health experts have kept the focus on isolating the sick and tracking down anyone those infected have come into contact with. In past outbreaks, stopping the chain of transmission has been crucial to defeating the disease, but the current outbreak has spiraled out of control, leading to more stringent measures including travel restrictions and the cordoning off of entire communities.
Sierra Leone is preparing to shut down for three days, starting Thursday at midnight, asking everyone to stay at home. Volunteers will go house to house with information about Ebola and how to prevent it and will also look for unreported cases. The World Health Organization has said that the official toll is probably a gross underestimate and that most patients are at home — and infecting others in the community — not in treatment centers.
The outbreak has taken a particularly high toll on health workers such as Pooley, who are at high risk because they have close contact with patients. Ebola is spread through contact with the bodily fluids of those who are showing symptoms or those who have died of the disease.
It was not disclosed which American patient would be receiving blood from Pooley. Two Americans are currently receiving treatment for Ebola in the U.S.
Doctors said Wednesday that aid worker Rick Sacra, who is being treated in Nebraska, is now expected to make a full recovery. The other, a WHO doctor, has not been identified.
Blood transfusions from survivors have been given to a handful of patients battling Ebola during this outbreak, including Sacra. Scientists think antibodies in the blood of people who have survived Ebola might help others infected with the disease, and WHO has recommended that such blood transfusions be offered to patients. But the evidence on whether the treatment works is mixed.
Confusion and fear about the disease and anger over some of these measures has occasionally sparked unrest. In Guinea this week, a team that was doing disinfection and education on prevention methods was attacked. A group of young people grabbed the team from a village in the country's southeast, the epicenter of the disease, and they are still missing, a local government official said.