WASHINGTON: A Liberian man who was the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States died in a Texas hospital on Wednesday (Oct 8), as deaths from West African epidemic neared 3,900.
Washington stepped up airport screening against the often fatal virus, and the World Health Organisation sought to contain concerns of a wider outbreak in Europe after a Spanish nurse was infected.
The world’s largest outbreak of Ebola has killed 3,865 people out of 8,033 infected so far this year, mainly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to the WHO’s latest count.
The spillover of the virus – with the first diagnosis in United States and the first case of infection in Spain – has raised fears of contagion in the West. WHO regional director Zsuzsanna Jakab said sporadic cases in Europe were “unavoidable” but the risk of a full outbreak was “extremely low.”
Meanwhile, two people were hospitalised in Los Angeles and Dallas for possible exposure to Ebola. In the Los Angeles case, the person had no symptoms but did have a travel history to Liberia that led to the patient’s evacuation by ambulance from the airport, the Centinela Hospital said.
Of the Dallas case, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention chief Tom Frieden said “there is someone who does not have either definite contact with Ebola or definite symptoms of Ebola who is being assessed.”
Ebola is transmitted by close contact with the bodily fluids of a person who is showing symptoms of infection such as fever, aches, vomiting and diarrhoea, or who has recently died of the hemorrhagic virus, experts say.
Thomas Eric Duncan became the first patient cared for in the United States to die of Ebola, said Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. Duncan passed away 10 days after he was admitted and despite receiving an experimental drug to fight off the illness.
“Mr Duncan succumbed to an insidious disease, Ebola. He fought courageously in this battle,” said a hospital statement. Duncan is believed to have been infected with Ebola before he left Liberia and boarded a plane to visit family in Texas.
The CDC has said there was “zero risk” that he had infected any fellow travellers because he was not symptomatic until days after the flight. News of Duncan’s diagnosis led to a spike of suspected Ebola cases and forced governments to consider stronger methods of keeping the virus at bay.
Hours after Duncan died, the White House announced that stricter airport screenings would be implemented at five major US airports beginning on Saturday. They include sending extra CDC staff to airports and taking the temperatures of people arriving from Ebola-hit nations.
The “vast majority of people” coming from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – the three countries hit hardest by the epidemic – will be screened, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. CDC chief Frieden said about 150 travellers come to the United States daily from the affected region, and described the screening measures as “manageable.”
President Barack Obama described the screening as “just belt-and-suspenders – it’s an added layer of protection on top of the procedures already in place.”
SPANISH FEARS MOUNT
In Spain, five people were isolated and dozens more monitored after a nurse in Madrid apparently caught Ebola while treating two elderly missionaries who died of the disease. One of the doctors treating Teresa Romero, the first person to contract Ebola outside West Africa, said she may have caught the deadly virus after touching her face with an infected glove.
As Spain scrambled to identify people who came into contact with Romero, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for calm and promised “transparency.”
Spain’s handling of the affair has come under question after it emerged that the nurse fell ill on Sep 30 while on leave after treating the missionaries, but she was not admitted to hospital until six days later.
The nurse had gone to her family doctor during this period but “she hid the fact that she was a nurse that had been in direct contact with an Ebola patient,” said the director of the health department of the Madrid regional government, Javier Gonzalez.
US URGES BROADER RESPONSE
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry said more countries must step up the fight against Ebola. “The fact is more countries can and must step up,” Kerry told reporters after talks with his British counterpart Philip Hammond, warning there were “still not enough countries to make the difference.”
“I’m here this morning to make an urgent plea to countries in the world to step up even further,” Kerry said. Britain unveiled plans to send 750 military personnel as well as a medical ship and three helicopters to Sierra Leone.