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Ebola kills more than 700; two Americans are ill

Published Aug. 1, 2014

As the death toll mounted from the worst outbreak of the lethal Ebola virus, West African leaders quickened emergency efforts Thursday, authorizing house-to-house searches for infected people and deploying the army to contain the disease.

The World Health Organization announced a $100 million plan to get more medical experts and supplies to the overwhelmed region, as the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States committed the agency to sending 50 more experts to West Africa in coming weeks.

In Atlanta, Emory University Hospital said it planned to accept a patient who has Ebola "within the next several days," but did not say whether it was one of the American volunteers in Liberia who have the disease.

The CDC advised Americans to avoid all nonessential travel to the three countries hardest hit by the virus: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

First recognized in March in Guinea, the Ebola outbreak has surged through porous borders to invade neighboring countries in an unprecedented way, quickly outstripping fragile health systems and forcing health officials to fight the battle on many fronts. Past outbreaks have been more localized, but the current one has spread over a vast region.

The viral illness has extracted a terrible toll, killing 729 people, including top physicians in Liberia and Sierra Leone, nations that already face an acute shortage of doctors. The outbreak also sickened two U.S. aid workers: Dr. Kent Brantly of Texas and Nancy Writebol, a North Carolina-based missionary.

Emory University Hospital declined to identify which aid worker would be sent there, citing privacy laws.

It would be the first time a patient infected with Ebola is treated in the United States, according to a CDC spokeswoman.

The hospital has a special isolation unit built in collaboration with the CDC. It is one of only four facilities of its kind in the United States.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that while the U.S. government would facilitate any transfer, private companies would be used to transport them.

Earnest said the aim of the operation would be to make sure aid workers have access to "modern medical facilities and technology" and "potentially lifesaving aid." He called the response consistent with past protocols during outbreaks of SARS and drug-resistant tuberculosis.

In its statement, Emory said its "physicians, nurses and staff are highly trained in the specific and unique protocols and procedures necessary to treat and care for this type of patient."

Writebol is in serious condition and is receiving an experimental treatment that doctors hope will better address her condition, according to a statement released by SIM, a Christian missions organization.

"There are efforts to bring her back," said Palmer Holt, a spokesperson for SIM. "We're feeling optimistic about the process of relocating non-essential personnel and the two patients."

Writebol's husband, David, is close by but can only visit his wife through a window or dressed in a haz-mat suit, the statement said.

"There was only enough (of the experimental serum) for one person. Dr. Brantly asked that it be given to Nancy Writebol," said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, another aid organization that has been working in Liberia during the crisis.

"This is a tragic, painful, dreadful, merciless virus. It's the largest, most complex outbreak that we know of in history," Frieden said.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and other health officials say that Americans should not fear that the epidemic will take hold in the United States. That's because Ebola is contagious only when a patient is sick with symptoms of the disease. The virus is spread by direct contact with bodily fluids after the symptoms appear.

"Ebola poses little risk to the U.S. general population," Frieden said.

Information from the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Associated Press was used in this report.