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US officials: Ebola poses threat to humanity

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 11:23am
Sarah Dilorenzo - Associated Press - Associated Press
 
              FILE - This Aug. 18, 2014 file photo shows a health worker carrying gloves at an Ebola treatment center in the city of Monrovia, Liberia. President Barack Obama urged West Africans on Tuesday to wear gloves and masks when caring for Ebola patients or burying anyone who died of the disease. He also discouraged the traditional burial practice of directly touching the body of someone who died of Ebola, which is one way the disease has been spreading in the region. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh, File)

Ebola represents a threat to all humanity and an outbreak of the virus in five West African countries will likely spread to more, American officials warned Wednesday.

"This is not an African disease. This is a virus that is a threat to all humanity," Gayle Smith, special assistant to President Barack Obama and senior director at the National Security Council, told reporters during a telephone briefing.

About half of the 3,000 people sickened have died in the current Ebola outbreak, which has hit Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal.

The disease is spreading faster than health workers can keep up with it, said Tom Kenyon, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who recently visited the affected region and who also spoke in the briefing.

But Kenyon said that the world has the tools to stop the outbreak; they just have to be put in place. He said more treatment centers are currently being opened and that he is about to start negotiations with the African Union to send more health workers.

"I think we're confident if we put these treatment units up, the health workers will come, but of course they have to be adequately trained and supervised and equipped with personal protective equipment," he said.

Many on the ground have said there aren't enough protective suits for health workers, who have become infected in large numbers in this outbreak. The U.S. government is "ramping up significantly" donations of protective gear, said Smith, the Obama adviser.

Kenyon said the key to solving the outbreak will be the effective implementation of measures used in all previous outbreaks: isolating and treating the sick, monitoring their contacts for signs of disease and safely burying the dead. He said experimental vaccines and treatments would not be available in time to make a difference.

One such experimental drug is ZMapp, which has been given to seven people so far in this outbreak. The company has said that all of its doses are now exhausted, and it will be months before more can be made.

It is also still not clear if the drug is effective, since human trials have not yet been carried out. Some of the people who received ZMapp died, while some survived.

William Pooley, a British nurse who contracted Ebola while working in Sierra Leone, was among those who received the drug. He was discharged from a London hospital on Wednesday after making a full recovery.

He said his superior care was largely responsible for his survival.

"I was very lucky in several ways: Firstly in the standard of care that I received, which is a world apart from what people are receiving in West Africa, despite various organizations' best efforts," Pooley told reporters. "The other difference is that my symptoms never progressed to the worst stage of the disease."

Pooley, 29, was flown back to Britain on Aug. 24 and was cared for in a special isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital.

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Associated Press journalist Gregory Katz in London contributed to this report.

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