Archive

Liberian families in Western Pa. fret over Ebola virus outbreak | TribLIVE.com
Health

Liberian families in Western Pa. fret over Ebola virus outbreak

Luis Fábregas
PTREBOLA02080214
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
George Toto, a refugee from Liberia, living in Whitehall, has lost a cousin to Ebola and is worried the virus may spread and threaten more of his family.
PTREBOLA01080214
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
George Toto, a refugee from Liberia living in Whitehall, has lost a cousin to Ebola and is worried the virus may spread and threaten more of his family.

Fear about a worsening outbreak of Ebola stretched to Pittsburgh on Friday as Liberian immigrants said relatives are scrambling to get care in stricken countries and a North Side church prayed for the safe return of two members doing missionary work in West Africa.

“Every day somebody is dying. We are very worried because our families don’t have the means to get medical support,” said George Toto, 35, a Liberian immigrant in Whitehall.

Toto leads the United Liberian Community of Greater Pittsburgh, which wants to send money and medical supplies to the capital city of Monrovia. One of Toto’s cousins, a man in his 20s, died from Ebola last week because he was afraid to go to a hospital, Toto said.

International health authorities called the outbreak the worst in history but said it is unlikely to enter the United States. The disease has killed more than 700 people since February and prompted worldwide travel advisories. Officials cautioned people to avoid nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the outbreak’s epicenter.

Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, said more than 60 health care workers have lost their lives in helping treat Ebola patients.

Dr. Andrew Hall and his wife, Lindsay, of Hampton are among American volunteers in Guinea, where laboratory testing confirmed at least 311 cases of Ebola. The Halls have spent three months in the country. Officials at Allegheny Center Alliance Church in the North Side, which is sponsoring their work, received an email from the couple on Friday.

“We have not seen any cases of Ebola at Hope Medical Center, though reports are that it is near us across the border in Liberia as well as north toward Conakry,” the couple wrote.

The couple said they changed travel plans because of the outbreak and expect to fly out on Tuesday after a two-day drive through the jungle to the capital of Guinea.

“Please pray that Air France maintains their flights for the removal of nonessential personnel. Please pray for safe travel on Sunday and Monday,” the email read.

Blaine Workman, administrative pastor of the church, commended the Halls for their commitment. Two other church members last week traveled to Gabon in West Africa, where there have been no reported cases of Ebola.

“It is very commendable what they are doing,” Workman said about the Halls. “I know they believe that God is going to use them in very specific and special ways over there.”

The Halls first went to Guinea in 2007. They stayed for less than two years until political upheaval forced them to leave, Lindsay Hall said in a recent video the church produced.

The Tribune-Review could not reach the couple by email.

In the video, Hall said her husband would work as a physician and she would stay home with their children.

“It’s a great environment for being able to share the love that Jesus has instilled in our hearts for other people,” she said.

The probability of anyone bringing the virus to the United States is fairly low, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician at UPMC. The virus leads to symptoms that are easy to spot, such as fever, headaches, intense weakness and vomiting. People with those symptoms who are traveling from stricken countries likely will be screened by infectious disease experts at airports in Africa.

“Ebola isn’t like the common cold or measles. It’s somehow hard to get. You only get it from exposure to blood and bodily fluids,” Adalja said.

At least two humanitarian workers infected in Africa will be treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, raising the possibility that other U.S. hospitals would treat victims. At Emory, doctors will treat patients in an isolation unit set up with help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The two Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, worked for U.S. missionary groups. They will be transported in a Gulfstream jet fitted with what essentially is a specialized, collapsible clear tent designed to house a single patient and stop any infectious germs from escaping.

Brantly and Writebol were in serious condition and still in Liberia on Friday, according to the North Carolina-based charity Samaritan’s Purse, which is paying for their transfer and medical care.

UPMC on Friday updated its treatment guidelines for patients who might have Ebola. Though doctors have recorded no cases of the disease in the United States, UPMC wants to equip its medical staff for the risk of infected travelers, Adalja said.

“Any clinician can look at that (guidance) 24/7 and rest assured we’ve been keeping abreast of it,” he said.

The standards largely mirror CDC advice to isolate probable Ebola patients.

Experts suggest doctors wear eye and mask protection and limit contamination of hospital equipment. No cure or other treatment exists for the disease, leaving doctors with few options but to try to make patients comfortable.

Toto, who came to Western Pennsylvania in 2002 as a refugee, said he speaks frequently with his mother in Liberia. She told him health workers, including nurses, have left their jobs for fear of contracting the virus. When people show up at some clinics, no one is there to care for them, he said.

“The current situation is very alarming,” he said.

Luis Fábregas is Trib Total Media’s medical editor. Reach him at 412-320-7998 or [email protected]. Staff writer Adam Smeltz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.