With the World Health Organization announcing Wednesday that 932 deaths had been reported or confirmed as a result of Ebola hemorrhagic fever, Saudi Arabia joined the list of countries with suspected cases.
“This is the biggest and most complex Ebola outbreak in history,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said.
Nearly all of those deaths have been in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where more than 1,700 cases have been reported, according to WHO. The agency said 108 new cases were reported between Saturday and Monday in those countries and Nigeria.
But concerns about the spread of the deadly virus escalated with Saudi Arabia reporting that a man died, apparently of the virus, after a trip to Sierra Leone, and Nigeria reported that a nurse died after treating someone believed to have contracted Ebola in Liberia.
WHO did not immediately confirm the deaths, and its count of Ebola cases does not include the two.
The Saudi man died Wednesday at a specialized hospital in Jeddah, the Saudi Ministry of Health said.
He had been in intensive care since late Monday “after exhibiting symptoms of viral hemorrhagic fever following a business trip to Sierra Leone,” the ministry said in a statement.
The nurse in Nigeria had helped care for Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian-American man, who died in Nigeria after traveling there from Liberia, Nigeria’s Ministry of Health said Wednesday.
The news of the nurse’s death came the same day that Nigeria confirmed another five cases of Ebola, the Health Ministry said.
Meanwhile, a Spanish priest who contracted the disease in Liberia will be flown to Madrid and become Europe’s first patient from this outbreak, according to the Spanish government.
Spain’s Ministry of Defense is using a medically equipped Airbus A310 to bring Brother Miguel Pajares to Madrid, where he will be treated at Madrid’s La Paz hospital, Spanish officials said.
In the United States, two patients are being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta: American doctor Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who had been in Liberia. Emory is one of four U.S. institutions capable of providing such treatment.
Writebol arrived in Atlanta on Tuesday, just days after Brantly arrived.
“We were able to spend a few minutes with her to encourage her and be encouraged by her condition,” Writebol’s son, Jeremy, said in a statement.
Is experimental drug helping?
Both Brantly and Writebol have been given the experimental drug ZMapp, which had not been tested on humans nor has it undergone any clinical trials.
Doctors say say it’s too early to tell whether ZMapp is effective or whether the two American patients are improving the standard treatment for Ebola.
The Centers for Disease control and prevention says it’s not likely the drug will become available for patients in West Africa.
“The product is still in an experimental stage, and the manufacturer reports that there is a very limited supply, so it cannot be purchased and is not available for general use,” the CDC said.
The World Health Organization will convene a medical ethics panel early next week to answer questions about whom should receive ZMapp, given that it is in limited supply.
“We have a disease with a high fatality rate without any proven treatment or vaccine,” said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general at WHO.
“We need to ask the medical ethicists to give us guidance on what the responsible thing to do is,” she said.
‘It won’t be easy’
Frieden said putting an end to the Ebola outbreak will “take many months, and it won’t be easy, but Ebola can be stopped,” he said. “We know what needs to be done.”
The United States is planning to send 50 health experts to West Africa to help contain the outbreak, which President Barack Obama addressed in remarks Wednesday, saying citizens of the affected countries are in Americans’ thoughts and prayers.
The United States stands “with the people of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia,” Obama said during the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington.
Frieden said the 50 experts from the CDC will work to combat the outbreak and help implement stronger systems to fight the disease.
The Ebola virus causes viral hemorrhagic fever, which affects multiple organ systems in the body and is often accompanied by bleeding.
Early symptoms include sudden onset of fever, weakness, muscle pain, headaches and a sore throat. They later progress to vomiting, diarrhea, impaired kidney and liver function — and sometimes internal and external bleeding.
Ebola spreads through contact with organs and bodily fluids such as blood, saliva, urine and other secretions of infected people. It has no known cure. The most common treatment requires supporting organ functions and maintaining bodily fluids such as blood and water long enough for the body to fight off the infection.