Ebola crisis could last for years if not controlled quickly. http://tiny.iavian.net/2vdo
Ebola crisis could last for years if not controlled quickly
If the Ebola outbreak isn’t controlled quickly, it could end up lasting for years and spreading to many more countries, a U.S. health official told a Senate hearing Tuesday.
Dr. Kent Brantly (L), the Fort Worth, Texas, doctor who was cured of Ebola after contracting the deadly virus while working with a charity in Liberia, testifies with Healey International Relief Foundation Sierra Leone Program Manager Ishmael Alfred Charles (R) during a hearing on Ebola in West Africa on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.(Photo: JIM WATSON AFP/Getty Images)
The Ebola outbreak could end up lasting for years and spreading to many more countries if it is not controlled quickly, a U.S. health official told a Senate hearing Tuesday, a day when aid agencies offered a stark assessment of prospects for stopping the epidemic.
Lawmakers on Tuesday held their first hearing on Ebola, warning that the deadly outbreak of the disease is getting worse by the minute. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health Spending held the joint hearing.
“If we do not act now to stop Ebola, we could be dealing with it for years to come,” said Beth Bell, director of the national center for emerging and zoonotic infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At a Senate hearing on Ebola, she noted that 100 CDC staff are working in West Africa and hundreds more are assisting from Atlanta. “The best way to protect the U.S. is to stop the outbreak in West Africa.”
Kent Brantly, a physician working for the missionary group Samaritan’s Purse, pleaded with senators to act quickly. Brantly was flown back to the USA for treatment and was cured. “We can’t afford to wait months or even weeks,” Brantly said.
“From the time I fell sick, just two months ago, the death toll has tripled,” Brantly said, noting World Health Organization estimates of 5,000 cases, with about half of those patients dying from the virus. “In nine months down the road, we are looking at hundreds of thousands, not just in cases, but deaths.”
While Bell described Ebola as a dangerous forest fire, moving fast, Brantly told senators that Ebola was “a fire straight from the pit of Hell. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that the vast moat of the Atlantic Ocean will protect us from this fire.”
Getting Ebola treatment centers up and running quickly, Brantly said, “is the only way to keep entire nations from being reduced to ashes.”
Even President Obama’s sending of 3,000 American troops to West Africa may not be enough to care for the swelling numbers of patients, experts said Tuesday. According to the World Health Organization, the outbreak has now affected about 5,000 people and killed half of them.
Daniel Lucey, who treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone for three weeks last month, said the USA is in uncharted territory with this outbreak.
“It’s not just Ebola, like the last 25 outbreaks,” said Lucey, an adjunct professor of microbiology and immunology at Georgetown University Medical Center. He notes that previous outbreaks occurred in isolated rural areas. “This is urban Ebola. It’s unprecedented and it’s uncontrolled.”
West African Ebola treatment centers look nothing like the gleaming modern buildings that many Americans picture when they think of hospitals, Bell said. Many hospitals in affected West African countries lack basics such as running water, soap and even beds. Patients often sleep on mattresses on the floor.
Ken Isaacs, vice president of programs and government relations at Samaritan’s Purse, a missionary group that ran an Ebola treatment center in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, told USA TODAY in an interview that he welcomes the military’s help. One of its doctors, Brantly, returned to the USA for treatment last summer after becoming infected.
Providing labs to run blood tests will help doctors better care for patients in West Africa, even without a vaccine or effective treatment. Those labs could help doctors test to see whether patients have health sodium levels, for example, or enough red blood cells.
But there may never be enough hospital beds, Isaacs says.
That’s why Samaritan’s Purse is shifting its focus away from hospitals toward teaching people to safely care for people infected with Ebola at home, Isaacs says.
The Obama plan includes training up to 500 health care workers a week, and construction of up to 17 health care facilities of 100 beds each. Home health care kits will be distributed, and local populations will be trained on how to handle suddenly infected Ebola patients.
“We need to educate people on how to safely care for their loved ones,” Brantly said.
The number of Ebola patients – now about 5,000 – has doubled in only the past month. If cases continue to double every three weeks, as some predict, the outbreak could affect 100,000 people, or even 250,000, by some estimates, Isaacs notes.
“There simply aren’t going to be enough beds,” Isaacs said.
“We ran Ebola treatment centers for two months and we were totally overwhelmed,” Isaacs said. “Isolating people in their homes and training the family members to protect themselves is the way we can influence disease transmission.”
The group believes the strategy could help care for patients safely. Isaacs notes that Samaritan’s Purse has 507 Liberian health workers, and that none of them or their families – a total of thousands of people — have become sick with Ebola.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Ebola is a threat to international security.
“We must take the dangerous, deadly threat of Ebola as seriously as we take ISIS,” Alexander said. “The spread of this disease deserves a more urgent response than its now getting. . . . Some people have asked why the military should be involved. They have to be involved if we want to deal with the problem. There’s no way for the doctor and nurse and healthcare workers to deal with it” without help.
Health experts tamped down some fears about Ebola – its capacity to mutate to become even deadlier.
Obama has said that the USA needs to get Ebola under control before the virus has a chance to mutate in ways that make it easier to spread. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told the senators that this possibility is remote.
“Right now, mutation is not the problem,” Fauci said. “The problem is the full court press that we need to do to get this under control.”
On a positive note, Fauci said that the first human trial of an Ebola vaccine, which began Sept. 2., is going well. Ten of a planned total of 20 volunteers have safely received the experimental vaccine, with no serious side effects. “There have been no red flags,” Fauci said.
Brantly implored the USA to help West Africa.
“This is not just a disease,” Brantly said. “These are people who need help. Societies are collapsing under the weight of this burden. We just need people to go help.”
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