DALLAS (Reuters) - The Ebola patient fighting for his life in a Dallas hospital is on a ventilator and a kidney dialysis machine to help stabilize his health, the hospital said on Tuesday.
Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with the deadly virus on U.S. soil, has also been given the experimental medication brincidofovir. A hospital in Nebraska said it is using the same drug to treat an American journalist who was airlifted from Liberia and arrived Monday.
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital said in a statement that Duncan’s liver function declined over the weekend. It said although it has since improved, “doctors caution that this could vary in coming days.”
Duncan is being sedated. His temperature is normal and his diarrhea has slowed, according to family members who spoke with his doctors at the hospital on Tuesday. They did not see Duncan, who has been in an isolation unit since Sept. 28.
Authorities in the United States and the public are on alert following Duncan’s diagnosis more than a week ago, which raised concerns that the worst epidemic of Ebola on record could spread from three hardest-hit impoverished countries - Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Duncan, who arrived in Texas in late September on a commercial flight from Liberia, has been in critical condition since Saturday.
The first case of Ebola being contracted outside of West Africa was reported in Spain and the World Health Organization expects more cases in Europe.
Freelance NBC cameraman Ashoka Mukpo is being treated at the Nebraska Medical Center, which cared for one other U.S. national flown out of West Africa after contracting Ebola and was later discharged.
The drug used in Dallas and Nebraska, brincidofovir, was developed by Durham, North Carolina-based Chimerix Inc. The company said it has been tested in more than 1,000 patients without raising safety concerns.
“We decided this was currently our best option for treatment,” said Phil Smith, medical director of the Nebraska Medical Center’s Biocontainment Unit, which consulted with U.S. health and drug officials before making its decision.
Mukpo is experiencing symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, the center said.
In Washington, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer said he expects the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will propose tougher Ebola screening requirements this week at U.S. airports.
President Barack Obama said on Monday the government would develop expanded screening of airline passengers for Ebola, both in the West African countries hit by the disease and the United States.
Texas state health officials said they are monitoring 10 people who had close contact with Duncan and 38 others who came into contact with that group to see if anyone had developed signs of infection. So far, no one has shown any symptoms, health officials said.
Officials have said this is a critical week to see if any of those exposed in Dallas develop signs of the virus that has killed more than 3,400 people since an outbreak in West Africa began in March, out of nearly 7,500 confirmed, probable and suspected cases.
Dallas residents have mostly taken in news of Ebola within the city limits calmly, but many have kept a close eye on whether it might spread. Cars of Dallas County Sheriff’s deputies who were at the scene of the apartment where Duncan stayed have been scrubbed as a precaution, the sheriff’s office said.
Prominent civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson met members of Duncan’s family and plans a prayer vigil later Tuesday in front of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.
Jackson said the hospital initially discharged Duncan because he was poor and did not have medical insurance. About two days after Duncan left the hospital, he was taken back by ambulance and put into isolation. The hospital and health officials have said mistakes were made in handling Duncan.
Additional reporting by Marice Richter in Dallas, Jim Forsyth in San Antonio and Sandra Maler in Washington; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Grant McCool and Eric Walsh