Two American health care workers have now been added to the list of hundreds infected with the deadly Ebola virus. Among the overwhelming sense of hysteria engulfing West Africa, there is one ray of hope: The current outbreak, although the largest and longest-lasting, also has the lowest mortality rate thanks to faster and more efficient treatment options.
Dr. Kent Brantly, a medical director for the aid group Samaritan’s Purse, and his colleague Nancy Writebol, an aid worker, are the first American-born victims of Ebola Outbreak 2013. After complaints of “body aches and symptoms typical for Ebola,” both were rushed to a treatment center in Monrovia, Liberia, Melissa Strickland, a spokeswoman for Samaritan’s Purse told NBC News.
This comes after Sheik Umar Khan, one of Liberia’s top doctors fighting to contain the outbreak also fell ill with Ebola only days prior. Spread of Ebola to health care workers highlights just how much danger volunteers put themselves in every day in their efforts to combat and control the outbreak. "It is a very dangerous infection and every medical person who takes care of these people understands, there is a risk, even if you are perfect in using all the gear," William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University told CBS News.
Brantly and Writebol had been in the African nation of Liberia for about a year, choosing to stay even after the onset of the viral outbreak. “These are real heroes — people who do things quietly behind the scenes, people with a very strong vocation and very strong faith,” John Munro, pastor of the Calvary Church in Charlotte, N.C., told The Washington Post, in reference to the couple. Although there is no cure or vaccination for Ebola, Brantly and Writebol’s chances of survival are much higher than ever before. Ebola normally has a mortality rate of 90 percent, but the current outbreak’s mortality rate has been estimated to be closer to 60 percent. This is because of quicker recognition of the virus’s symptoms and more advanced treatment options.
Treatment of Ebola consists largely of making sure the patient is hydrated, maintaining adequate blood pressure, replacing any blood loss through hemorrhaging, and treating other infections that may develop. The large presence of both African and global aid has helped ensure that more sick individuals are receiving the necessary treatment. Ken Isaacs, vice president of Samaritan’s Purse, told CBS News that thanks to early treatment of the symptoms both Brantly and Writebol are “in stable condition,” but added that “they are not out of the woods yet.”
Symptoms of Ebola begin as a high fever and sore throat. Quickly these symptoms escalate to more pressing health issues such as vomiting, diarrhea, and finally internal and/or external bleeding. At least 672 individuals are believed to have died from Ebola since the beginning of the year, 100 of these being health care workers. The increasing number of health officials falling ill to Ebola has added to the overall fear gripping Africa’s west coast. Tobert Nyenswah, an assistant health minister in Liberia, described the situation as “getting more and more scary.”