Ebola

Maj. Dr. Eric Jacobson checks the temperature of a soldier in the controlled monitoring area of Joint Base Lewis-McChord on the morning of Jan. 13, 2015. It was day 13 of the 21 day Ebola monitoring period for the cohort that returned from Liberia.
KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

The 100 soldiers from Fort Carson’s 615th Engineer Company have their temperature recorded twice a day. They’ve been lining up for these temperature checks for more than two weeks now. They’ve gotten so good at it, the whole battalion can get through the line in 20 minutes.

A health care worker gives some much needed maternal care to an infant whose mother died from Ebola.
Courtesy of Karin Huster

Most days, Seattle nurse Karin Huster woke up around 6 a.m. for a quick bucket shower and breakfast before walking over to the Ebola treatment unit in Port Loko, Sierra Leone.

Outside, ambulances would queue up at all times of the day, packed with as many as eight patients at all stages of illness.

Editor's note: Some audiences may find portions of this content disturbing.

The World Health Organization reports that the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone may be leveling off — although nearly 250 new cases were reported there last week.

A few years ago, disease ecologist David Hayman made the discovery of a lifetime.

He was a graduate student at the University of Cambridge. But he spent a lot of that time hiking through the rain forest of Ghana, catching hundreds of fruit bats.

"We would set large nets, up in the tree canopies," he says. "And then early morning, when the bats are looking for fruit to feed on, we'd captured them."

Hayman didn't want to hurt the bats. He just wanted a few drops of their blood.

Dr. Senga Omeonga met us under a huge mango tree outside St. Joseph's Catholic Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. Behind the main building, several dozens of disinfected rubber boots worn by health care workers were propped upside down on stakes planted on a patch of lawn.

This is the hospital where Omeonga works as general surgeon and the head of Infection Prevention Control. It's also where he came down with Ebola on Aug. 2.

He says his days in treatment were "a living hell." And the experience has changed his view of the world — and the way he treats patients.

Ebola may have slid off the nation's worry list, but that doesn't mean the United States is ready to handle an outbreak of Ebola or another infectious disease, an analysis says. That includes naturally occurring outbreaks like dengue fever, tuberculosis and measles, as well as the use of bioterrorism agents like anthrax.

Sixteen people being monitored at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for the Ebola virus have been cleared by medical personnel.  

The 15 service members and one civilian returned last month from a mission to Liberia in support of Operation United Assistance. 

The group celebrated Thanksgiving in isolation during their 21 days of controlled monitoring.  They were checked twice daily for signs of the virus by Army medical personnel.

Here's what it takes to design a better Ebola suit: a roomful of university students and professors, piles of canvas and Tyvek cloth, sewing machines, glue guns ... and chocolate syrup.

Even Youseph Yazdi, head of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design (CBID), still isn't sure what the syrup was for.

Ebola has killed thousands, caused hundreds of millions of dollars in economic devastation and set off a global panic. But aid officials are hoping it also may help to address long-festering shortcomings in West Africa's health care systems.

Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea all suffer a dearth of doctors, a lack of supplies and training, and a concentration of clinics in cities rather than in the rural areas where many people still live. Those same problems have thwarted global attempts to eliminate quieter killers, like malaria and tuberculosis, in poor countries.

This Saturday, Liberian Americans living in the Northwest are hosting a fundraiser for Ebola relief efforts in West Africa.

The proceeds will pay for essential supplies. But for the Liberian community in the Puget Sound region, the event is a way to stay involved from thousands of miles away.

Wencke Petersen came to Liberia in late August to do what she normally does for Doctors Without Borders in hotspots all over the world — manage supplies.

But the supplies she was meant to organize hadn't arrived yet. So she was asked to help with another job: standing at the main gate of the walled-in compound, turning people away when the unit was full.

For five weeks, she gave people the bad news.

The headlines circulating on the Web Tuesday may have given you pause: "India's First Ebola Patient Has Been Quarantined," Time Magazine wrote on its website. "Man tests positive for Ebola, kept under isolation," Press Trust of India declared.

But those headlines don't tell the full story.

For more than two decades, Lucy Barh has been helping women deliver babies. Even during Liberia's violent civil war, when other midwives left, Barh stuck around.

But none of this prepared her for a patient she saw a few months ago.

"I was on duty that day when the patient came in," says Barh, at the headquarters of the Liberian Midwives' Association in Monrovia. "We did the examination. She was not in labor."

Small-town hospitals and clinics across the Northwest are scrambling to prepare for Ebola.

Courtesy Karin Huster

Marcie Sillman speaks with Seattle nurse Karin Huster, who is getting on a plane this weekend to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone. She previously was providing care in Liberia. As she prepared for this trip, Huster said the hardest part about leaving is not knowing what will happen. The Record will be following Huster's journey. She will be in Sierra Leone until December.

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