The deadliest Ebola outbreak in recorded history has left more than 700 dead in West Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Thursday, a day after the deteriorating situation prompted aid organizations to begin evacuating personnel. Two Americans in Liberia remain in “stable but grave” condition, but Samaritan’s Purse reports the deadly disease hasn’t stopped them from showing Christ’s love.
“Yesterday, an experimental serum arrived in the country, but there was only enough for one person,” said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse. Dr. Kent Brantly and hygienist Nancy Writebol became ill while working with Samaritan’s Purse and Serving in Mission, respectively, at ELWA Hospital outside Monrovia, Liberia.
Graham said Brantly, 33, who has a wife and two young children, asked that the serum be given to Writebol. Brantly’s condition worsened slightly overnight, but he received his own special treatment. “Dr. Brantly received a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy who had survived Ebola because of Dr. Brantly’s care,” Graham said. “The young boy and his family wanted to be able to help the doctor that saved his life.”
Samaritan’s Purse staffers believe they have traced the source of the virus that infected Brantly and Writebol to a local staff member who was infected, came to work sick, and later died. Medical staff believe Brantly and Writebol contracted the virus in the hospital’s scrub-down area, where caregivers remove their protective gear after seeing patients.
Ebola is now blamed for 729 deaths in four West African countries this year, with no signs of slowing down, particularly in Liberia and Sierra Leone. On Thursday, the WHO announced 57 new deaths—27 in Liberia, 20 in Guinea, nine in Sierra Leone, and one in Nigeria. “This epidemic is without precedent,” Bart Janssens, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders, told CNN. “It’s absolutely not under control, and the situation keeps worsening.”
Samaritan’s Purse and Serving in Mission announced Wednesday that everyone but necessary medical personnel will be evacuated by the end of the weekend. The U.S. Peace Corps announced it would evacuate all 340 volunteers in the affected countries, though two volunteers are in isolation as a precaution. The U.S. State Department has issued travel warnings for the affected areas.
Authorities say 28 out of the 45 health workers in Liberia who have contracted the disease so far have died. Ebola has no vaccine and no specific treatment, with a fatality rate of about 60 percent in this particular outbreak. It spreads by contact with the virus, which causes vomiting, diarrhea, and internal and external bleeding. The dead include the chief doctor treating Ebola in Sierra Leone, who was set to be buried today.
Much of Liberia is on a kind of modified lockdown, with whole communities quarantined. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Wednesday ordered the nation’s schools to close and most civil servants to stay home. The rapid spread has some infected rural communities turning hostile, suspicious that health workers brought the disease themselves. Others struggle with denial over their prognosis, potentially endangering others. “Ebola kills,” Sirleaf warned. “Denying that the disease exists is not doing your part, so keep yourselves and your loved ones safe.”
In Sierra Leone, President Ernest Bai Koroma vowed to quarantine sick patients and have authorities conduct house-to-house searches for victims. Nigeria’s government has issued a “red alert” as it attempts to contact 30,000 people who may have been exposed to an infected Liberian-American. The Liberian official who died last week after collapsing at an airport in Lagos—a cramped city of 21 million—was headed to Minnesota for his daughters’ birthdays.
Ebola cases first emerged in Guinea in March. Doctors Without Borders reports some areas in Guinea are improving. One treatment center closed after 75 percent of its patients recovered and no new cases surfaced for three weeks. The disease has an incubation period of 21 days.
The WHO, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Doctors Without Borders continue to work with the Liberian Health Ministry and other West African nations to stop Ebola’s spread. Doctors Without Borders said it has been “stretched beyond capacity” in Sierra Leone and Guinea, turning over two Liberian treatment centers to Samaritan’s Purse in July. It was not immediately clear whether those centers would remain under Samaritan’s Purse oversight after its planned evacuations.