(FinalCall.com) – Many were alarmed but not surprised when the first documented case of the Ebola virus showed up in the United States and an American journalist arrived in Nebraska from Liberia for treatment of Ebola as The Final Call went to press.
Ashoka Mukpo, a video journalist, was set for treatment Oct. 6 in a special unit at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. He was the fifth American to contract Ebola. Another victim, who was successfully treated, returned to a hospital in Massachusetts complaining of coughing and a slight fever but doctors said he tested negative for Ebola, according to the Associated Press.
Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan, in critical condition in an isolation unit at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, was the first confirmed case of Ebola to be diagnosed in the United States.
Mr. Duncan did not display any symptoms upon leaving West Africa, but began to develop symptoms about five days after returning to the U.S. He flew from Liberia to Brussels, Belgium then to Washington D.C.’s Dulles Airport before arriving on a United Airlines flight at Dallas-Fort Worth airport Sept. 20.
Mr. Duncan was initially turned away from a hospital when he attempted to go in for treatment. This took place even after informing medical personnel that he had just returned from Liberia, the African nation with the highest number of cases and deaths during this Ebola outbreak. He finally gained admittance to the hospital Sept. 28.
Once infected an Ebola victim can experience fever, vomiting, headaches, diarrhea, stomach pain and unexplained bruising or bleeding. None of the family members he had stayed with displayed symptoms of the virus, however, as a precaution, all were quarantined, said officials. It was initially reported that Mr. Duncan had only come into contact with 18 people; however, as of Oct. 2 the number had grown to over 100 people that may have been exposed to the virus.
The New York Times reported that before leaving Liberia, Mr. Duncan helped carry a 19-year-old Ebola victim to a taxi to go to a hospital. The pregnant woman was turned away because of lack of space and later died. It is unclear whether Mr. Duncan was aware of her Ebola diagnosis at the time. Liberian government officials, however, said they will prosecute him for allegedly failing to disclose contact with a person infected with Ebola on his airport departure screening questionnaire.
More than 3,430 have died and nearly 7,500 cases have been reported in the West African region and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel notice for U.S. citizens advising avoidance of travel to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. It is possible Nigeria could soon be added to the list.
“We are stopping Ebola in its tracks in this country,” said CDC director Tom Frieden in a release. “I am certain we will control this.”
Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, minister of health and human services for the Nation of Islam, was cautious about forecasting Ebola’s spread inside America. The virus has the potential to be devastating in the United States but whether that will happen remains to be seen, he said. Dr. Alim Muhammad was more concerned about the continued impact of the disease in Africa for a number of reasons.
The CDC informed reporters during an Oct. 3 telebriefing that there are currently 10 individuals considered “high risk” of developing Ebola as a result of contact with Mr. Duncan. The CDC is also working with medical officials across the country as suspected cases continue to emerge.
Ebola deaths, disease toll are high
According to the World Health Organization, the Ebola case fatality rate is around 50 percent, however rates have reached 90 percent in previous outbreaks. The incubation period from time of infection to manifestation of symptoms is 2 to 21 days. Typically, the infection is spread via direct contact through broken skin or mucous membranes. If one comes into contact with the bodily fluids such as sweat, feces, urine, saliva or semen of an infected person, or if one comes into contact with a surface, clothing or bed linens soiled by an infected person, transmission of the virus can also occur.
Those who are exposed to Ebola victims are to wear special protective clothing, masks, and gloves. In cases where medical professionals have become infected themselves, officials believe it may be because they neglected to take the proper precautions. The disease has also been spread at some funerals and burials when mourners have directly touched the body of a deceased Ebola victim.
Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders, told representatives of many countries at the United Nations the sick in Monrovia are “desperate.” “Fear and panic have set in,” she said.
“Our 150-bed facility in Monrovia opens for just 30 minutes each morning. Only a few people are admitted—to fill beds made empty by those who died overnight,” said Ms. Liu “The sick continue to be turned away, only to return home and spread the virus among loved ones and neighbors.”
Even with the global response to the outbreak, and although more treatment facilities have opened, healthcare workers are still stretched and challenged. Because of the overburdened and underequipped health infrastructure in many areas, people are also dying from other diseases such as Malaria, Ms. Liu added.
A cure, or cash?
Currently, there are no licensed and approved Ebola vaccines, however, there are many treatments undergoing evaluation. According to the CDC, Tekmira and Biocryst Pharmaceuticals are receiving funding from the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency and have possible treatments in the “early development” stages. The Defense Dept. is also working with a company called Newlink to develop an Ebola vaccine. BioCryst, with support from the National Institutes of Health, is working on an antiviral drug said to begin “Phase 1 testing later this year.”
Three Whites who contracted the virus, Americans Nancy Writebol, Dr. Kent Brantly and British nurse William Pooley, recovered after receiving ZMapp. Liberian doctor Abraham Borbor and Spanish priest Miguel Pajares contracted the disease, were treated with ZMapp, but died.
Dr. Alim Muhammad believes it would be a mistake to take the CDC, the NIH and pharmaceutical companies at their word. “There’s also an interest by the parties involved to make as much money along the way as possible,” said Dr. Alim Muhammad. “Don’t forget it is the CDC itself that owns the patent for this weaponized Ebola,” he added.
Ebola testing kits, vaccines, and contracts to develop supplemental treatments represent big money for the biomedical and pharmaceutical companies who get contracts. Research grants from government and private donors often fund the operations of scientists and development of pharmaceuticals.
Ebola is a biological weapon and not a naturally occurring infection, Dr. Muhammad charged.
“If someone is shot down, it is only because the sniper put that person in his scope and aimed at that person,” said Dr. Alim Muhammad. “Someone decided that the target was going to be West Africa and the people who were going to be victimized were going to be African.”
A national security memorandum dated December 10, 1974 titled, “Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for the United States Security and Overseas Interest,” noted: “The United States economy will require large and increasing amounts of minerals from abroad, especially from less developed countries.”
Henry Kissinger, secretary of state under President Nixon at the time, directed the research. Many of the most controversial aspects of this government study involved strategies aimed at population control.
This is not coincidental, said Dr. Alim Muhammad. He cited events in Nigeria as an example of the targeting of a West African country. Because of her resources and large population, Nigeria has been targeted since 1974, including the Boko Haram terrorist group, and now Ebola to paint the government as inept and reduce the regional power of a united Nigeria, he added.
“What is taking place with the deliberate detonation of the biological weapon commonly referred to as Ebola is the destabilization and breakup of Nigeria,” said Dr. Alim Muhammad. “I do know where this weapon has been detonated, and that is in West Africa, and we have to wait and see whether there are going to be other targets.”