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American woman infected with Ebola heads back to U.S.

Nancy Writebol

Nancy Writebol

ATLANTA — As an American woman infected with Ebola returns to the United States, a man hospitalized in New York City is waiting to learn whether he has the dire disease.

More and more, the deadly outbreak that has killed hundreds of people in West Africa is gaining ties to the United States.

Missionary Nancy Writebol boarded a specially-equipped air ambulance Tuesday morning and headed from Liberia to Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia.

Once she lands in Georgia midday Tuesday, she’ll be rushed to Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital — one of four hospitals in the country with extensive isolation procedures.

The hospital is just blocks away from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which helped design an isolation unit at Emory to be used if a CDC staff member needed treatment for a rare deadly disease.

Writebol will be only the second person ever to be treated for Ebola in the United States. She contracted the disease in Liberia while working with SIM USA, a Christian mission group.

“We’re just grateful and very cautiously optimistic about how she’s doing right now,” Bruce Johnson, president of SIM USA, told CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”

The first known Ebola patient to be treated in the United States, Dr. Kent Brantly, was making progress since he arrived in Atlanta from Liberia on Saturday, a U.S. official said. The doctor was working with Ebola patients in Liberia when he became ill.

Like Writebol, Brantly took a highly experimental drug called ZMapp. Both of their conditions improved after taking the serum.

But the gruesome disease is still ravaging West Africa. More than 700 people have died in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone due to Ebola, which can torment victims with profuse vomiting, uncontrollable bleeding and organ failure.

New York hospital tests man for Ebola

A man who became ill after recently traveling to West Africa is now in strict isolation at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, the medical center said.

Doctors were trying to confirm the cause of the man’s high fever and gastrointestinal symptoms Monday. Results from an Ebola test are expected Tuesday or Wednesday.

“Odds are this is not Ebola. It’s much more likely that it’s a much more common condition,” said Dr. Jeremy Boal, chief medical officer of the Mount Sinai Health System.

CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta agrees. About half a dozen people have recently returned from West Africa and gotten tested because of symptoms, but none of those cases has been confirmed as Ebola, Gupta said.

How Ebola spreads

Ebola doesn’t spread through the air or water. The disease spreads through contact with infected organs and bodily fluids such as blood, saliva and urine.

There is no FDA-approved treatment for Ebola. Emory will use “supportive care” for its two Ebola patients, unit supervisor Dr. Bruce Ribner said.

That means carefully tracking a patient’s symptoms, vital signs and organ function and using blood transfusions and dialysis to keep patients stable.

The secret serum

Just last Thursday, Brantly’s condition in Liberia had deteriorated so badly that he called his wife to say goodbye.

But three vials of the experimental drug ZMapp stored at subzero temperatures were flown into Liberia last week — and likely saved Brantly and Writebol before they evacuated to the United States.

The medicine is a three-mouse monoclonal antibody — meaning mice were exposed to fragments of the Ebola virus, and the antibodies generated within the mice’s blood were harvested to create the medicine.

The serum works by preventing the virus from entering and infecting new cells.

Many have asked why the two Americans received the experimental drug when so many — about 1,600 people — in West Africa also have the virus.

The World Health Organization says it was not involved in the decision to treat Brantly and Writebol. Both patients had to give consent to receive the drug, knowing it had never been tested in humans before.

The process by which the medication was made available to the American patients may have fallen under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “compassionate use” regulation, which allows access to investigational drugs outside clinical trials.

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