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CDC Vows Quicker, More Robust Ebola Response


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Tom Frieden speaks at a news conference in Atlanta, Oct. 12, 2014.

The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that starting now, any U.S. hospital with a confirmed case of Ebola will have a CDC response team on the ground "within hours."

Dr. Tom Frieden delivered an update on the Ebola situation at CDC headquarters in Atlanta Tuesday, saying he has been hearing "loud and clear" from health care workers that they are worried about Ebola and do not feel prepared to take care of a patient with the disease.

Fears have risen since a Texas nurse became the first person to contract Ebola on U.S. soil, after treating the Liberian man who was the first person to die of the virus in the U.S.

Frieden said the CDC team currently on the ground in Dallas is making sure those caring for the infected nurse do so "safely and effectively." Frieden said putting "a more robust" infection control team in place when the first patient was diagnosed in Dallas might have prevented the nurse from getting infected.

He said officials have identified 76 health workers who might have come into contact with the Liberian patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, or his blood. He said they are all being monitored for fever or other symptoms. Another 48 people exposed to Duncan before he was hospitalized have passed the period of greatest risk, and Frieden said they are now unlikely to develop Ebola.

Meanwhile, the 26-year-old nurse, Nina Pham, said Tuesday in a hospital statement that she is "doing well" and wants "to thank everyone for their kind wishes and prayers."

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where Pham is being treated, is the same facility where she was infected.

The hospital's CEO said the doctors and nurses involved with Pham's treatment "remain hopeful." He said the hospital is "working tirelessly to help her in this courageous fight."

The optimistic outlook for Pham comes after it was revealed she received a blood transfusion from Kent Brantly, the American doctor who recovered from Ebola in the U.S. after contracting it in Liberia.

Pham is the third Ebola victim to receive Brantly's blood, which carries antibodies to the virus because he is a survivor. It also was given to American aid worker Dr. Rick Sacra, now recovered, and U.S. journalist Ashoka Mukpo, who appears to be getting better.

In an interview with VOA Tibetan Service Tuesday, Mukpo's father, Dr. Mitchell Levy, said his son's strength is coming back. Levy said Mukpo is eating again and getting out of bed, signs that he said point to improvement.

China drug

The CDC announcement came as a pharmaceutical company in China announced it has applied for market approval for a drug that is being touted as a possible cure for Ebola.

Last week, Sihuan Pharmaceutical Holdings Group signed an agreement with the China Academy of Military Medical Science to push a drug called JK-05 through China's approval process. At the moment, the Academy developed drug has only been tested in mice and is approved for emergency military use only.

Che Fengsheng, chairman of Sihuan, said last week his company will file with China's Food and Drug Administration before the end of the year. He said the agency has attached great importance to the application, and that priority will be given to the drug in the approval process.

Sihuan’s product is just one contender among a number of experimental drugs worldwide aimed at curing Ebola. ZMapp, TKM-Ebola and brincidofovir have all been used to treat Ebola patients on an emergency basis in the latest outbreak. It is not clear yet if any of them will prove to be an effective cure for the disease.

Zuckerberg donation

As the fears about Ebola rise, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Tuesday that he and his wife are donating $25 million to the CDC Foundation to help fight the disease. In a post on his Facebook page, Zuckerberg said "we need to get Ebola under control in the near term so that it does not spread further and become a long-term global health crisis" like HIV or polio.

The foundation said the money will go to the CDC's Ebola response effort in the worst-affected countries of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other places where Ebola is a threat.

The Liberian patient in Dallas died of Ebola last Wednesday. Dr. Brantly reportedly also offered to donate blood to him, but their blood types did not match.

In addition to those who came in contact with Duncan, officials also are watching one person Pham was in direct contact with while she was contagious. During Tuesday's CDC briefing, Texas Health Department commissioner Dr. David Lakey said the individual is doing well and showing no symptoms. Some reports have indicated that person is Pham's boyfriend. Her pet dog also has been taken to an undisclosed location for monitoring.

Last week, authorities in Spain euthanized a Spanish nurse's dog after the nurse was diagnosed with Ebola. That decision sparked outrage and raised fears that the same might happen to the Dallas nurse's Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

But Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told CNN Tuesday that authorities want to make sure Pham's dog "is healthy as can be" and "taken care of at this point." He said officials emailed Pham a video of her pet in the hopes of lifting her spirits.

The CDC says there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread Ebola to people or other animals.

UN warning

The head of the U.N. mission to fight Ebola warned Tuesday that the coming weeks will be critical in efforts to get the virus under control. His words came as U.S. President Barack Obama urged the international community to do more to halt this global public health threat.

The head of the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, Anthony Banbury, told the U.N. Security Council he is “deeply worried” that all the pledges of personnel, material and money are not enough to stop Ebola.
Speaking via a video link from Ghana where the new U.N. mission is based, Banbury said that if the international effort to get ahead of the virus fails, the response plan they have cannot be scaled to a much larger crisis.

“We either stop Ebola now, or we face an entirely unprecedented situation for which we do not have a plan," said Banbury.

He said the World Health Organization estimates there will be 10,000 cases of Ebola each week by December 1. Banbury said the WHO advises that 70 percent of infected people must be in a care facility and 70 percent of burials must be done without causing further infections by that date.

“If we can reach those targets, then we can turn this epidemic around," he said.
Banbury said many gaps still need to be filled in the Ebola response. In Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone - the three most affected countries where all but a handful of the nearly 9,000 cases have occurred - he said several thousand more treatment beds with trained, paid staff are needed, as well as more diagnostic laboratories, burial teams, protective gear and vehicles.

He also warned that Ebola is spreading most rapidly in urban areas, which will need specialized assistance.

This report was produced in collaboration with Margaret Besheer at the United Nations and the VOA Mandarin service.