Ebola victim Nancy Writebol at Emory: Outlook cautiously optimistic

Nancy Writebol arriving at Emory University Hospital, Atlanta
Nancy Writebol arriving at Emory University Hospital, Atlanta

WASHINGTON, August 5, 2014 – Bruce Johnson, President of SIM, speaking from Emory University Hospital, says they are cautiously optimistic Nancy Writebol will recover. Just as one week ago, Writebol’s husband was considering funeral arrangements.

READ ALSO: Brantly and Whitebol justify use of experimental drugs by critically ill

The Ebola virus that has struck the two American aid workers, Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly, is one of the worst strains of the disease, says Monia Sayah of Doctors and Nurses Without Borders, but all strains are all deadly. Sayah has had Ebola and is living proof that one can recover from the disease.   (Editor correction:  Monia Sayah has not had Ebola. We regret the error).

The experimental ZMAPP serum that Dr. Brantly and Nurse Writebol are being treated with is a promising step forward for the world medical community and governments that need to have a way to more quickly cure those infected.

Nancy Writebol, 59, arrived in Georgia at Dobson Air Force Base from Monrovia, Liberia, a 6,000 mile journey, where she contracted the disease. She joins Dr. Brantly at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta where she will continue her treatment using ZMAPP, the experimental serum that is being field tested to good response.

Johnson, speaking from Emory, says Writebol was able to eat prior to leaving and that she walked onto the plane. While Writebol is very weak, Johnson is optimistic about her recovery, particularly in light of her improvement from her previously grave status. Emory is only one of four US hospitals that have the isolation units necessary for this virulent and highly infectious disease.

Video from helicopters show Writebol being transported by stretcher from the ambulance to the hospital.

READ ALSO: Is Ebola the next pandemic? Not likely even as over 700 have died

The ZMAPP serum is usually given in 3 doses, 72 hours apart. San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceuticals is the drugs manufacturer, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Mapp’s website describes the Ebola drug as a “cocktail” of monoclonal antibodies, which had been proven to work in monkey studies.

Director of the NIH’s infectious diseases institute, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the experimental serum was a “cocktail of antibodies,” proteins that the body makes to block the virus. According to published writings, the serum is derived in part from tobacco plants.  Prior to administering the drug to Dr. Brantly, the drug had not been evaluated on humans.

“When administered one hour after infection, all animals survived,” a 2012 company statement reads. “Two-thirds of the animals were protected even when the treatment, known as MB-003, was administered 48 hours after infection.”

When given the first does of ZMAPP, Dr. Brantly, who is from Ft. Worth, Texas had an almost instant and dramatic improvement. Much was made of the fact that Brantly, who was in critical condition before the ZMAPP, was able to shower before leaving Liberia and able to walk from the ambulance into the hospital

A graduate of the Indiana University School of Medicine, Brantly had just finished his residency at John Peter Smith Hospital in the family resident program before going to Liberia. He was also working in Monrovia, where he had been living with his wife and two children working within a post-residency program set up by international aid group Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization.

In addition to receiving the serum, the patients will receive fluids and bloods which are leached as the disease progresses. Medical authorities will also check for damage to vital organs.

At this time, medical caregivers can only use what Sayah describes as Barrier Nursing, where they are covered head to toe, which is a challenge in the hotter climates. Brantly and Writebol are kept in separate isolation rooms. Sayah says that as long you are covered and take precautions by keeping a safe distance from those infected, she feels safe treating persons with Ebola. The Ebola virus is highly infectious but is not air born.



In speaking about Dr. Brantly, Samaritan’s Purse spokeswoman Melissa Strickland said. “He was very meticulous in following [safety protocols] and making sure the entire staff was following [them].”

“The temperature inside those suits goes well above 100 degrees,” Strickland said. “I wouldn’t say that the three hours would be standard. That would be an extraordinary circumstance because of his incredible passion for the Liberian people.”

Dr. Kent Brantly is enjoying a recovery that is nearly miraculous and he is, at this time, able to sit up in his isolation room and work on the computer. According to The World Health Organization, as of Monday of this week, 887 people in three African countries have died from Ebola.

CBS reports that a doctor who spoke to the news agency says that “disease is spinning out of control in Africa partly because it is extremely difficult to contain it in a sprawling, congested city center.”

The fear is the disease is spreading in outlying areas and that families, afraid to admit they have a sick relative, are not reporting deaths or handling the bodies in safe manner after death.

Last Saturday, Dr. Samuel Brisbane, a senior doctor at Liberia’s largest hospital, became the country’s first doctor to die of Ebola. British Airways has said they will suspend flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone until August 31.

“The safety of our customers, crew and ground teams is always our top priority and we will keep the route under constant review in the coming weeks,” a statement from the U.K. carrier said.


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