Doctor Dies in Nebraska After Ebola Infection in Sierra Leone

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OMAHA, NE - NOVEMBER 15: Dr. Martin Salia, a surgeon infected with the Ebola virus while working in Sierra Leone, arrives at the Nebraska Medical Center on November 15, 2014 in Omaha, Nebraska. Salia arrived in Nebraska on Saturday after working at Kissy United Methodist Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and testing positive for Ebola on Monday. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)

Photograph by Eric Francis/Getty Images

A physician infected with the Ebola virus died today at the Nebraska Medical Center after being evacuated from Sierra Leone.

Martin Salia was on dialysis, a ventilator and multiple medications after suffering from kidney and respiratory failure caused by the deadly virus, the hospital said today in a statement. He also got a dose of blood plasma from an Ebola survivor and Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc.’s experimental Ebola drug ZMapp, which has been available only in limited supplies.

“We used every possible treatment available to give Dr. Salia every possible opportunity for survival,” Phil Smith, medical director of the hospital’s biocontainment unit, said in the statement. “As we have learned, early treatment with these patients is essential. In Dr. Salia’s case, his disease was already extremely advanced by the time he came here for treatment.”

Salia arrived in Nebraska on Nov. 15, having been ill for 13 days, hospital officials said today at a press conference. His body will be cremated.

Nebraska Medical doctors started Salia on ZMapp and plasma the day he arrived, Chris Kratochvil, associate vice chancellor for clinical research at the hospital, said during the press conference.

Experimental Drugs

Chimerix Inc., Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp. and FujiFilm Holdings Corp. are also developing drugs that target the infection. U.S. health officials have called for testing that will require some patients get a placebo instead of an experimental treatment. All patients in any trial will get supportive care, including replacing fluids.

While it’s controversial not to give some patients a potentially life-saving therapy, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said doctors and scientists need definitive information on whether the drugs work.

“Many of these drugs, and I assure you of this, several will turn out to be toxic and not effective,” Fauci said today on Bloomberg Television.

Mapp, based in San Diego, previously said it had run out of ZMapp, which is made through a process involving tobacco plants. The hospital determined data on ZMapp’s use in animals showed that it could be beneficial for Salia, and his wife and son agreed, hospital officials said.

‘Extremely Critical Condition’

Salia was chief medical officer and surgeon at Kissy United Methodist Hospital in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. That facility was closed Nov. 11 after Salia tested positive for Ebola, the United Methodist Church said.

The hospital had said Salia arrived in “extremely critical” condition. He is the sixth doctor in Sierra Leone to be infected with the deadly virus; the other five also died.

The patient, a permanent U.S. resident from Sierra Leone, was evacuated at the request of his wife, who lives in Maryland, the State Department has said.

“We are so appreciative of the opportunity for my husband to be treated here and believe he was in the best place possible,” his wife, Isatu Salia, said in the hospital’s statement.

Salia was the third person treated for the deadly virus at Nebraska Medical Center, following a missionary worker, Rick Sacra, and a freelance journalist, Ashoka Mukpo. Both were evacuated from West Africa after becoming infected, and recovered. Neither arrived at the hospital in as grave condition as Salia.

Other Cases

Eight people treated in U.S. hospitals have been cured. The only other person to die of Ebola in the U.S., Thomas Eric Duncan, was initially released from a Dallas hospital in September before returning with worsening symptoms. Two nurses were infected after contact with Duncan; both recovered.

There is no currently approved drug to cure the disease. Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. They are frequently dehydrated and need intravenous fluids or oral rehydration with solutions that contain electrolytes. The Omaha medical center has a sealed biocontainment unit separate from other areas used to care for patients. Treatment for the Ebola patients has included experimental drugs and blood serum from an Ebola survivor.

The virus has ravaged West Africa, killing more than 5,170, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.