Deaths from the Ebola virus stand at 932 in four West African countries, the World Health Organization said Wednesday as it kicked off an emergency meeting to decide whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency.
A total of 108 new cases and 45 deaths were reported between Aug. 2 and Aug. 4, the UN health agency said. Most of the newly reported deaths were in Liberia. In Nigeria, the number of cases increased from four to nine, including one death. Cases have also been seen in Sierra Leone and Guinea, where the outbreak originated.
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At a two-day meeting, WHO officials are discussing how to contain the outbreak and whether to declare it a "public health emergency of international concern." Evidence of ongoing sustained human to human transmission is one of the key criteria that experts use to make the decision.
If so, it may entail border closures and even travels bans.
WHO said critical issues include:
- Cross-border infections and travellers.
- Stretched capacity and ability for partners to respond rapidly, safely and effectively.
- Socioeconomic impacts.
Elsewhere on Wednesday, two American aid workers who contracted Ebola in Liberia appear to be improving after receiving an experimental medicine ahead of their evacuation back to the U.S. It’s unknown whether the cocktail has helped.
The WHO called on medical ethics experts to weigh in on the use of experimental treatments for Ebola.
"We are in an unusual situation in this outbreak. We have a disease with a high fatality rate without any proven treatment or vaccine," assistant director general Marie-Paule Kieny said in a statement. "We need to ask the medical ethicists to give us guidance on what the responsible thing to do is."
The question of using something untested has many ethical implications, said Kerry Bowman of the University of Toronto's Joint Centre for Bioethics.
While these are unusual circumstances, Bowman said, the traditional clinical trial system is the best way to ensure that drugs work and are safe.
"If we're going to completely abandon our processes with clinical trials with untested drugs, in turn we can do more harm than good," Bowman said. "What I mean by that is, in the long term you could have more deaths because you really don't know if the drugs you have are working or not, and in the short term you may save some people."
1st Ebola-linked death outside Africa?
In Saudi Arabia, a 40-year-old man suspected to have fallen ill with the Ebola virus after returning from Sierra Leone died, the country’s health minister said. If confirmed, it would be the first Ebola-related death outside Africa.
A Nigerian nurse who treated a man with Ebola died and five others are sick after coming in contact with him, a health official said. The death of the unidentified nurse is the country’s second from Ebola.
In late July, Patrick Sawyer, a 40-year-old American of Liberian descent, flew from Liberia's capital to the Nigerian megacity of Lagos, introducing the virus there.
Experts say people infected with Ebola can spread the disease only through their bodily fluids and after they show symptoms.The incubation period can last up to 21 days.
Spain's Defence Ministry said Wednesday a medically equipped Airbus 310 is ready to fly to Liberia to repatriate Miguel Pajares, a Spanish missionary priest who has tested positive for the Ebola virus.
Pajares is one of three missionaries being kept in isolation at the San Jose de Monrovia Hospital in Liberia who has tested positive for the virus, Spain's San Juan de Dios hospital order, a Catholic humanitarian group that runs hospitals around the world, said Tuesday.