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Missionaries quarantined after arriving in the U.S. from Liberia

Health workers screen people for the deadly Ebola virus before entering the Kenema Government Hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone. Associated Press/Photo by Michael Duff

Missionaries quarantined after arriving in the U.S. from Liberia

David Writebol, husband of Ebola-stricken missionary Nancy Writebol, arrived in the United States on Sunday night with two other SIM staff members, the Christian aid group said Monday. But he won’t be allowed to visit his wife, who is in isolation at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, for up to three weeks.

A chartered plane flew into a private portion of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport about 10:16 p.m. EDT, where North Carolina and Mecklenburg County officials found all three to be healthy. The trio began a mandatory 21-day isolation in Liberia, and state officials are requiring them to finish out the quarantine on SIM’s Charlotte campus.

Writebol’s wife, along with Dr. Kent Brantly, are improving. Brantly issued the first public statement from either Ebola victim Friday, saying he was “growing stronger every day.” But in West Africa, Ebola has killed nearly 1,000 people after spreading from Guinea to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and now Nigeria.

While Saudi Arabian officials say a man who died there did not have Ebola after all, Nigerian officials reported the 10th confirmed case in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city. And on Saturday, a Catholic humanitarian group based in Spain said a Congolese nun working in Liberia has died of the disease.

Spain continues to treat one of the nun’s colleagues, a 75-year-old priest, evacuated last week to Madrid. Spanish officials announced they had obtained some of the same experimental serum used to treat Writebol and Brantly.

Just last week, U.S. officials said virtually no doses of the drug were available and that it could take months to develop a modest amount. No African has received the treatment, and Spanish media reports that despite the priest’s hopes, Spanish officials refused to allow the now-dead nun to evacuate with him for treatment.

Ethical debates are becoming more heated, and Guinean officials on Monday asked for the drug. Nigerian officials said last week they had asked U.S. authorities about the serum but have not received any. The serum is still in the development stages and Brantly and Writebol were the first humans to get it. No approved treatment or vaccine for Ebola exists, and the fatality rate is as high as 90 percent without treatment. A World Health Organization official said a vaccine could be available in 2015, and WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C., reported Monday that Raleigh’s GlaxoSmithKline is the developer.

For now, the ill-equipped health systems in the poor African nations are struggling to keep up. Liberia announced that a donation of protective gear from China would arrive Monday. A shortage of full-body suits and even clean surgical gloves has prompted some health workers to refuse to treat Ebola patients. The European Union and USAID announced more than $23 million in new aid, along with more laboratory diagnostic support.

But the situation has only gotten worse in Liberia. Riot police on Saturday raced to quell a demonstration blocking Liberia’s busiest highway as an angry crowd protested the government’s delays in collecting the bodies of Ebola victims. Protestors reported bodies lying by roadsides for days after villagers apparently complied with government orders to end dangerous burial rituals and cremate victims.

The deteriorating situation prompted Guinea, where the outbreak is improving, to close its land borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone. Those borders had remained largely open as the three countries focused on isolating themselves from other neighbors. Saudi Arabia has also refused to issue visas to 7,400 Muslim pilgrims from Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea for the hajj pilgrimage, which sees millions of people from around the world gather in Mecca.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Andrew Branch Andrew is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.

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