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US launches Ebola response team

Director of Centers for Disease Control says unit will be able to respond to a confirmed Ebola diagnoses within hours

Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), told reporters on Tuesday that he is establishing a "CDC Ebola response team" to deploy anywhere within the U.S. within hours of a confirmed Ebola diagnoses.

"I wish we had put a team like this on the ground the day the first patient was diagnosed," Frieden said, referring to Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan who died on Oct. 8.

While Frieden affirmed that the CDC is capable of combatting Ebola, he said "it's hard" because "what we are dealing with is a disease that is unfamiliar in the U.S." 

Frieden's latest attempt to prevent the Ebola virus from spreading in the U.S. comes amid alarming growth estimates from international public health providers. The World Health Organization (WHO) said earlier Tuesday that West Africa could see up to 10,000 new Ebola cases each week before the end of this year. 

Ebola has killed nearly 4,447 people — mostly in West Africa, according to data released Tuesday by WHO, which has called the epidemic "the most severe, acute health emergency seen in modern times." There are currently 8,914 confirmed cases of the disease, the WHO reported. 

The international community has called for a ramped up response to the global epidemic. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced on Tuesday that they would donate $25 million to the CDC "to help fight Ebola."

"We need to get Ebola under control in the near term so that it doesn't spread further and become a long-term global health crisis that we end up fighting for decades at large scale, like HIV or polio," Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook.  

The epidemic is reaching beyond West Africa, with a U.N. medical worker who was infected with Ebola in Liberia dying in Germany despite "intensive medical procedures," a German hospital said Tuesday. Meanwhile, a Dallas health care worker who was infected while treating Duncan received a plasma transfusion donated by a doctor who beat the virus.

The St. Georg Hospital in Leipzig, Germany, said the U.N. worker, 56, whose name has not been released, died overnight. It released no further details on the man and did not answer telephone calls.

The man tested positive for the Ebola virus on Oct. 6, prompting Liberia's U.N. peacekeeping mission to place 41 staff members who had possibly been in contact with him under "close medical observation."

He arrived in Leipzig for treatment on Oct. 9. The hospital's chief executive, Iris Minde, said at the time that there was no risk of infection for other patients, relatives, visitors or the public.

The man was kept in a secure isolation ward specially equipped with negative pressure rooms, which are hermetically sealed and can be accessed only through airlocks. All air and fluids are filtered, and all equipment is decontaminated after use, Minde said.

The Ebola patient was the third to be flown to Germany for treatment. The first, a Senegalese man infected while working for the WHO in Sierra Leone, was taken to a Hamburg hospital in late August. He was released Oct. 3 after recovering and returned to his home country, the hospital said.

Another patient, a Ugandan man who worked for an Italian aid group in West Africa, is undergoing treatment in a Frankfurt hospital.

The Dallas-based health care worker, Nina Pham, 26, who contracted the disease was among more than 70 staff members at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital who cared for Duncan, according to medical records. They drew his blood, put tubes down his throat and wiped up his diarrhea. They analyzed his urine and wiped saliva from his lips, even after he had lost consciousness.

The CDC's Frieden reported on Tuesday that Pham was in "stable condition." Pham said in a release earlier in the day that she is "doing well and want[s] to thank everyone for their kind wishes and prayers."

Pham and her colleagues wore protective gear, including gowns, gloves, masks and face shields — and sometimes full-body suits — when caring for Duncan. The health care worker is the first person known to have contracted the disease in the United States.

The WHO has backed the treatment of Ebola patients with blood from people who beat the often deadly virus.

The idea is that using survivors’ blood for transfusion treatments, called convalescent plasma serums, could work by giving infected patients the antibodies that survivors developed to eventually overcome the virus.

After convening a panel of more than 150 experts in September, the WHO said the severity of the current Ebola epidemic meant that pursuing experimental treatments that showed signs of promise satisfied many concerns regarding medical ethics. The world body cited an example from the 1995 Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, during which eight patients were given transfusions of blood from people who beat the illness and seven of the recipients recovered.

Still, causation between convalescent plasma serum treatments and full recovery from Ebola remains unproved.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press. Marisa Taylor contributed reporting.

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