Kent Brantly, the American missionary doctor who contracted the Ebola virus at a treatment center in Liberia, will be released from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where he was being treated, according to a hospital spokesman.
Brantly, 33, has been receiving medical care at the Atlanta hospital since Aug. 2, after being evacuated from Liberia. Hopes had been raised for Brantly’s survival after he was given an experimental treatment developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., a small biotechnology company based in San Diego.
It’s not known whether the treatment aided his recovery, or whether his own immune system fought off the virus. Brantly had also received a blood transfusion from a 14-year-old survivor, according to Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian charity organization that ran the Ebola clinic where Brantly worked as medical director.
A second American patient, Nancy Writebol, who worked at the same treatment center with Brantly in the West African nation, is also being treated at Emory after being infected with the lethal virus. Emory spokesman Vincent Dollard declined to comment on the status of Writebol, who was also given the Mapp medicine. The hospital will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. in Atlanta.
Writebol was reunited with her husband David this week after he completed a 21-day precautionary monitoring period to make sure he wasn’t infected. She has been getting stronger, David Writebol has said.
“Please remember and pray for those in Africa battling, treating and suffering from Ebola,” Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, said in a statement. “Those who have given up the comforts of home to serve the suffering and the less fortunate are in many ways just beginning this battle.”
The World Health Organization has declared Ebola an international public health emergency. As of Aug. 18, the virus has killed 1,350 people in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone since the outbreak started in December, according to the Geneva-based agency. That makes it the worst Ebola epidemic on record. It’s the first time the disease has appeared in West Africa.
The international response to the Ebola outbreak, criticized as being too slow, has since been stepped up. Quarantine measures in the area where Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia meet have inflicted “extreme hardship” on more than a million people but are essential to contain the spread of the virus, Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director general, wrote yesterday in an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“No one is talking about an early end to the outbreak,” Chan wrote. “The international community will need to gear up for many more months of massive, coordinated, and targeted assistance.”
The Ebola virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person. There is no approved cure. Standard treatment is to keep patients hydrated, replace lost blood and use antibiotics to fight off opportunistic infections. The goal is for the body’s immune system to eventually beat the disease.
A handful of experimental drugs have emerged as candidates for emergency use in addition to the Mapp drug, which doesn’t have capabilities yet to scale up production. They include an antiviral medicine from Japan’s Fujifilm Holdings Corp. and Boston-based MediVector Inc., which is in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to submit an application to use the medicine to treat Ebola. The drug, favipiravir, has been extensively tested in humans against influenza. Fujifilm said Aug. 15 that it has enough stock for more than 20,000 patients.
Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp. said Aug. 7 that the FDA may allow the use of its Ebola drug, TKM-Ebola, in people infected with the virus. U.S. regulators had previously put tests of the drug on hold. Other companies developing Ebola drugs include BioCryst Pharmaceuticals Inc., and Sarepta Therapeutics Inc.
Ebola has historically killed as many as 90 percent of those who contract it. The current outbreak has claimed the lives of about 55 percent of its victims.