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Latest News: WHO eyes mass Ebola vaccines by mid-2015

Hundreds of thousands of Ebola vaccine doses could be rolled out to West Africa by mid-2015, the World Health Organization said, after a new case of the virus was reported in New York and a two-year-old girl died in the first case in Mali.

Two American nurses were declared cured of Ebola and one -- Dallas-based Nina Pham -- hugged President Barack Obama at the White House to prove it.

But the states of New York and New Jersey ordered mandatory quarantine for medics who had treated victims of the disease in West Africa.

Steps include mandatory quarantine 21 days of any individual who has had direct contact with an Ebola patient while in Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone, including medics who treated Ebola patients.

The new measures were ordered by state governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie on Friday, the day after an American doctor tested positive for Ebola one week after returning from working in hard-hit Guinea.

Craig Spencer, 33, was in said to be in stable condition in isolation at New York's Bellevue Hospital Center, receiving treatment for the illness which has killed nearly 4,900 people -- most of them in West Africa.

Europe's main stock markets fell on Friday over concerns about New York's first case, in a doctor who tested positive after returning from treating sufferers in Guinea, one of the countries at the epicentre of the world's worst outbreak of the disease.

The search for an effective vaccine to fight the disease took on fresh urgency as the WHO said several hundred thousand doses could be available in the "first half" of 2015.

"All is being put in place to start efficacy tests in the affected countries as early as December," WHO assistant director general Marie-Paule Kieny said.

Kieny's comments came after closed-door talks to try to find a vaccine to beat a disease that has ravaged the west African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

- 'Real-world' tests -

Experts are pinning their hopes on the experimental vaccine rVSV, with doses arriving in Geneva for a new round of trials, and ChAd3, made by Britain's GlaxoSmithKline.

Five other potential vaccines are in the pipeline.

Whichever proves effective in trials, WHO hopes to send huge numbers of doses to Africa for "real-world" tests.

"The pharmaceutical companies developing all these vaccines are committing to ramping up the production capacity to millions of doses to be available in 2015," said Kieny.

There is currently no licensed cure for Ebola, which is transmitted through close contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person or someone who has died from the disease.

New York's mayor said America's biggest city was fully equipped to handle Ebola as authorities moved to shut down fears of the virus spreading.

Spencer became the first American case of the virus outside Texas.

He was rushed to a Manhattan hospital Thursday with fever and gastrointestinal symptoms, a week after returning from treating Ebola sufferers in Guinea with the charity Doctors Without Borders.

His fiancee and two of his friends are in quarantine but appear healthy, officials said.

"There is no cause for alarm," Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news conference. "New Yorkers need to understand the situation is being handled and handled well."

There was better news when Pham -- the first US healthcare worker to contract Ebola -- was declared free of the virus.

"I am on my way back to recovery even as I reflect on how many others have not been so fortunate," Pham said before meeting Obama.

She and her nursing colleague Amber Vinson, who was also given the all-clear, caught the disease while treating a Liberian Ebola sufferer, Thomas Eric Duncan, at a Dallas hospital. He later died.

- First death in Mali -

But in the West African nation of Mali, a two-year-old girl who recently returned from a trip to neighbouring Guinea with her grandmother died from the virus.

The toddler's condition had shown signs of improvement earlier, but a source in the prime minister's office said she had succumbed to the virus in the western region of Kayes.

The Malian government advised residents to avoid all non-vital travel to affected areas.

The WHO said the Malian authorities were tracing everyone who had contact with the girl and her grandmother and 43 people had been placed under observation.

In Ivory Coast, which has escaped Ebola until now, a desperate search was on for a health worker from Guinea who may have fled across the border after having contact with a patient who died of the disease.

The man had still not been tracked down after 48 hours late Friday.

Meanwhile, European Union leaders agreed to boost aid to combat Ebola in west Africa to one billion euros ($1.3 billion).

African countries have pledged to send more than 1,000 health workers to the most severely-hit countries.

With almost 10,000 people now infected, AU chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said the regional bloc was responding to an urgent need for reinforcements.

Latest News: WHO: Millions of Ebola vaccine doses ready in 2015

LONDON (AP) — The World Health Organization says millions of doses of two experimental Ebola vaccines could be ready for use in 2015 and five more experimental vaccines will start being tested in March.

Still, the agency warned it's not clear whether any of these will work against the deadly virus that has already killed at least 4,877 people this year in West Africa.

Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny from the U.N. health agency told reporters that those doses could be available in 2015 if early tests proved that the two leading experimental vaccines are safe and provoke enough of an immune response to protect people from being infected with Ebola.

Trials of those two most advanced vaccines —one developed by GlaxoSmithKline in cooperation with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the other developed by the Canadian Public Health Agency and licensed to the U.S. company NewLink Genetics — have already begun in the U.S., U.K. and Mali.

"The vaccine is not the magic bullet. But when ready, they may be a good part of the effort to turn the tide of this epidemic," Kieny said.

If early data from the ongoing tests are promising, larger trials in West Africa would offer the shot to health workers and others at high risk of catching Ebola as soon as December, Kieny said. Previously those trials weren't starting until January.

GSK said it might be able to make about 1 million doses of their vaccine per month by the end of 2015, assuming that some logistical and regulatory hurdles can be overcome.

"The message we heard from WHO that the people fighting the epidemic will be among the first to test Ebola vaccines and treatments is exactly the one we needed to hear," Dr. Bertrand Draguez, medical director for Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement. "This needs to be followed by a massive roll-out of vaccines to the general population once their efficacy is proven."

Kieny also said five other possible Ebola vaccines should start being tested in March but did not specifically name them. She said Russian scientists are working on a number of vaccines including one that may be ready to go into clinical trials soon.

Johnson & Johnson said this week it would start preliminary testing of its experimental Ebola vaccine in January against a strain of Ebola that is very similar to the one causing the current outbreak in West Africa. It was not clear if that was one of the five mentioned by Kieny.

Kieny said plans to get the vaccines to West Africa had yet to be worked out, including who would pay for immunization campaigns — which weren't planned to start before June at the earliest. Kieny said the charity Doctors Without Borders pledged to create a vaccine fund and other organizations, including the World Bank, might help buy the vaccines.

She also acknowledged that, given the speed at which these experimental vaccines are being rolled out, "there will certainly not be as much known in terms of their safety as would be normal." Kieny said Britain had proposed creating a fund that would offload liability from pharmaceutical companies in case any bad side effects emerge from the shots.

In Brussels on Friday, the European Union and its 28 member nations managed to create a 1 billion-euro ($1.26 billion) fund to fight the Ebola outbreak. Britain's contribution of 205 million pounds ($329 million) was the largest among the EU nations.

"Helping West Africa to cope with the crisis is the most effective way to prevent a serious outbreak of the disease elsewhere," the EU leaders said at the end of a two-day summit. "The scale of the epidemic is a threat not only to the economy and the stability of the affected countries, but also to the region as a whole. "

In Beijing, China's president pledged to provide $81 million in aid to help fight Ebola.

__

Raf Casert and Mike Corder in Brussels and Danica Kirka in London contributed to this story.

Latest News: Two US states order tough Ebola quarantine rules

New York and New Jersey on Friday ordered a mandatory quarantine for medics who treated victims of the disease in West Africa, after the deadly virus spread to America's largest city.

The new measures were ordered by state governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie the day after an American doctor tested positive for Ebola one week after returning from working in hard-hit Guinea.

Craig Spencer, 33, was in stable condition in isolation at Bellevue Hospital Center on Friday as he underwent treatment for the illness, which has killed nearly 4,900 people -- most of them in West Africa.

The New York case revived fears about the possible spread of the virus in US cities, but a glimmer of hope came with the news that two Texas nurses infected while treating a Liberian man are now free of the virus.

In Manhattan, Cuomo and Christie announced additional screening protocols at JFK and Newark international airports at a joint press conference.

Steps include mandatory quarantine for up to 21 days of any individual who has had direct contact with an Ebola patient while in Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone, including medics who treated Ebola patients.

Additionally, anyone who has travelled to the affected regions but not had direct contact with an Ebola patient will be actively monitored by public health officials and quarantined if necessary.

Christie said that a health care worker who arrived at Newark with a recent history of treating patients with Ebola in West Africa, but who had no symptoms, had been placed in quarantine.

Spencer was rushed to the hospital with fever and gastrointestinal symptoms on Thursday, a week after returning from a stint in West Africa with the charity group Doctors Without Borders.

His live-in fiancee and two of his close friends are in quarantine but healthy, officials said.

- 'No cause for alarm' -

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Cuomo and other officials sought to allay fears that Spencer had put New Yorkers at risk by using the subway, going bowling and eating out before falling ill.

"There is no cause for alarm," de Blasio said. "New Yorkers need to understand the situation is being handled and handled well."

"We are fully prepared to handle Ebola. Our medical experts here in the city have been studying this disease intensively and working closely with our federal partners," de Blasio said.

New York, one of the largest points of entry to the United States, had been braced for months for a possible Ebola case.

The area's two largest international airports, JFK and Newark, this month introduced health checks for passengers travelling from West Africa, and four city hospitals are equipped to cope with Ebola patients.

Spencer, who returned home through JFK on October 17, is the first case diagnosed in the United States outside Texas.

In Dallas, two nurses contracted the virus after treating a Liberian patient who later died of Ebola.

-Obama hug for cured Ebola nurse-

The nurses were declared cured on Friday, and 26-year-old Nina Pham was healthy enough to leave hospital and meet President Barack Obama for a hug at the White House before returning home.

Obama has been vocal in calling on Americans not to give in to fear or hysteria, stressing that Ebola does not spread easily and that the United States is well-equipped to deal with any new cases.

Pham smiled and appeared healthy, wearing a turquoise shirt and dark business suit at a news conference outside the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

"I feel fortunate and blessed to be standing here today," she said, expressing her gratitude for those who prayed for her and cared for her while she was sick.

Pham was the first US health care worker to be infected with Ebola while working inside the United States, catching the disease from Thomas Eric Duncan, who was admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas on September 28.

Her colleague, Amber Vinson, also become infected. She, too, is clear of the virus but has not yet been released from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.

"Tests no longer detect virus in her blood," the hospital said, adding that Vinson would stay in the serious communicable diseases unit for continued supportive care until further notice.

Pham and Vinson worked in the intensive care unit, though it remains unknown exactly how they were infected.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a "breach of protocol" was to blame, and has since issued stricter guidelines for donning protective gear when caring for Ebola patients.

Latest News: Cancer-killing cells made in the lab
A brain tumourBrain tumours are often solid and hard to reach so stem cells are an effective way of targeting them

Related Stories

Scientists from Harvard Medical School have discovered a way of turning stem cells into killing machines to fight brain cancer.

In experiments on mice, the stem cells were genetically engineered to produce and secrete toxins which kill brain tumours, without killing normal cells or themselves.

Researchers said the next stage was to test the procedure in humans.

A stem cell expert said this was "the future" of cancer treatment.

Start Quote

We do see the toxins kill the cancer cells”

End Quote Dr Khalid Shah Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School

The study, published in the journal Stem Cells, was the work of scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

For many years, they had been researching a stem-cell-based therapy for cancer, which would kill only tumour cells and no others.

They used genetic engineering to make stem cells that spewed out cancer-killing toxins, but, crucially, were also able to resist the effects of the poison they were producing.

They also posed no risk to normal, healthy cells.

In animal tests, the stem cells were surrounded in gel and placed at the site of the brain tumour after it had been removed.

Their cancer cells then died as they had no defence against the toxins.

Toxin-producing stem cells (in blue) help kill brain tumour cells (in green).Toxin-producing stem cells (in blue) help kill brain tumour cells in the tumour cavity (in green)

Dr Khalid Shah, lead author and director of the molecular neurotherapy and imaging lab at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said the results were very positive.

"After doing all of the molecular analysis and imaging to track the inhibition of protein synthesis within brain tumours, we do see the toxins kill the cancer cells."

He added: "Cancer-killing toxins have been used with great success in a variety of blood cancers, but they don't work as well in solid tumours because the cancers aren't as accessible and the toxins have a short half-life."

But genetically engineering stem cells has changed all that, he said.

"Now, we have toxin-resistant stem cells that can make and release cancer-killing drugs."

Start Quote

This study shows you can attack solid tumours by putting mini pharmacies inside the patient...”

End Quote Prof Chris Mason University College London

Chris Mason, professor of regenerative medicine at University College London, said: "This is a clever study, which signals the beginning of the next wave of therapies.

"It shows you can attack solid tumours by putting mini pharmacies inside the patient which deliver the toxic payload direct to the tumour.

"Cells can do so much. This is the way the future is going to be."

Nell Barrie, senior science information manager for Cancer Research UK, said it was an "ingenious approach".

"We urgently need better treatments for brain tumours and this could help direct treatment to exactly where it's needed.

"But so far the technique has only been tested in mice and on cancer cells in the lab, so much more work will need to be done before we'll know if it could help patients with brain tumours."

She said this type of research could help boost survival rates and bring much-needed progress for brain cancers.

Dr Shah now plans to test the technique using a number of different therapies on mice with glioblastoma, the most common brain tumour in human adults.

He hopes the therapies could be used in clinical trials within the next five years.

Latest News: Lantern gets early funding for mental health therapy app

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Lantern, a technology startup that offers online and mobile coaching programs to support mental health, has won early backing for its service.

Executives at the 2-year-old startup said on Friday it has raised $4.4 million (2.74 million pounds) from investors led by Silicon Valley-based venture firm Mayfield, with seed funding from SoftTechVC. Facebook Inc Chief Product Officer Chris Cox is serving as an advisor.

While most patients visit therapists at a physical office, Lantern said its founding team has found that researchers support the concept of online coaching, with occasional check-ins from mental health professionals.

For $49 a month or $300 a year, Lantern's service tailors programs for each customer based on a profile created by answering online questions such as, "Is your life meaningful and purposeful?" Lantern will connect each customer with a coach.

Lantern's online and mobile tools teach calming behaviours such as muscle relaxation and deep breathing to help people cope with anxiety, body image issues, stress or even relationships.

Coaches, who take a cut of the monthly fee, will regularly check in via SMS to offer encouragement and feedback.

Internet-based programs to support mental health, while growing in popularity, have only recently gained support from investors. Just a year ago, Lantern Chief Executive Alejandro Foung said, most venture capitalists would not "touch the space." but now there is a growing interest in these digital services.

To develop the service, Foung said Lantern worked closely with researchers at Stanford University, Washington University in St. Louis and Pennsylvania State University.

The National Institutes of Health recently granted the company $4 million to study how to prevent eating disorders and improve body image on campus. Thirty colleges are participating in this study and are offering students free access to Lantern.

(Reporting by Christina Farr; Editing by Richard Chang)

Latest News: NY, NJ order Ebola quarantine for doctors, others

NEW YORK (AP) — Alarmed by the case of an Ebola-infected New York doctor, the governors of New Jersey and New York on Friday ordered a mandatory, 21-day quarantine for all medical workers and other arriving travelers who have had contact with victims of the deadly disease in West Africa.

The move came after a New York City physician who returned to the U.S. a week ago from treating Ebola patients in Guinea fell ill with the virus. Many New Yorkers were dismayed to learn that after he came home, Dr. Craig Spencer rode the subway, took a cab, went bowling, visited a coffee shop and ate at a restaurant in the city of 8 million.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the case led them to conclude that the two states need precautions more rigorous than those of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends monitoring of exposed people for 21 days but doesn't require quarantine, in which they are kept away from others.

"It's too serious a situation to leave it to the honor system of compliance," Cuomo said.

Those who are forcibly quarantined will be confined either to their homes or, if they live in other states, to some other place, most likely a medical facility, the governors said. Those quarantined at home will receive house calls from health officials. Twenty-one days is the incubation period for the Ebola virus.

Dr. Howard Zucker, acting New York state health commissioner, said any medical personnel who have treated Ebola patients in the three Ebola-ravaged West African countries — Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia — will be automatically quarantined.

Cuomo said anyone arriving from the three countries will be questioned at the airport about their contact with Ebola patients.

The two governors gave no estimate of how many travelers would be subject to quarantine, but Cuomo said "we're not talking about a tremendous volume of people coming in from these areas," and added that there are no plans to hire more screeners at airports.

The two states are home to Kennedy Airport and Newark Liberty in New Jersey, both major international portals.

Spencer's illness led lawmakers on Capitol Hill, scientists and ordinary New Yorkers to wonder why he was out on the town after his return from West Africa — and why stronger steps weren't being taken to quarantine medical workers.

Health officials said that he followed U.S. and international guidelines in checking his temperature every day and watching for symptoms, and that he put no one at risk. But others said he should have been quarantined — either voluntarily or by the government — during the incubation period.

An automatic three-week quarantine makes sense for anyone "with a clear exposure" to Ebola, said Dr. Richard Wenzel, a Virginia Commonwealth University scientist who formerly led the International Society for Infectious Diseases.

Aid organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, the group Spencer was working for, have argued that mandatory quarantines are unnecessary because people with Ebola aren't contagious until symptoms begin, and even then it requires close contact with body fluids.

Also, aid organizations have warned that many health care volunteers wouldn't go to Ebola hot zones if they knew they would be confined to their homes for three weeks after they got back.

Spencer, a 33-year-old emergency room doctor, returned from Guinea on Oct. 17 and sought treatment Thursday after suffering diarrhea and a 100.3-degree fever. He was listed in stable condition at a special isolation unit at Bellevue Hospital Center, and a decontamination company was sent to his Harlem home. His fiancee, who was not showing symptoms, was being watched in a quarantine ward at Bellevue.

On the streets of New York, Michael Anderson was critical of the U.S. government and Spencer.

"He's stupid, a complete idiot" for moving about in public, the longtime Manhattan resident said at Grand Central Station. "It's his responsibility when you come back from Africa" not to put people at risk, he said.

Cuomo, too, was critical of Spencer, saying he did "great work" as a volunteer, but adding: "He's a doctor and even he didn't follow the voluntary quarantine. Let's be honest."

Nearly 4,900 people have died in the Ebola outbreak, most of them in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

In other developments:

— One of the two Dallas nurses who caught Ebola from a patient was declared virus-free and released from a hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. Nina Pham, 26, said she felt "fortunate and blessed to be standing here today." She later met with President Barack Obama at the White House. The other nurse, Amber Vinson, is in an Atlanta hospital, where she was said to "making good progress."

— Millions of doses of two experimental Ebola vaccines could be ready for use in 2015, and five more experimental vaccines will start being tested in March, the World Health Organization said.

— In Mali, which reported its first case this week, authorities warned that many people are in danger because the toddler who brought the disease to the country was bleeding from her nose as she traveled on a bus from Guinea.

The World Health Organization is not recommending the quarantine of returning aid workers without symptoms, according to spokeswoman Sona Bari.

"Health care workers are generally self-monitoring and are aware of the need to report any symptoms, as this patient did," she wrote in an email.

Bruce Johnson, president of SIM USA, a Christian organization based in North Carolina, said its staffers are told to follow the CDC guidelines. Beyond that, he said, they are told to avoid crowded public areas.

He warned that such measures could discourage volunteers.

Nurses, doctors and others who hold down regular jobs back home would say, "I want to go over and help for a month, but now you're telling me that when I get back I can't go to work for 21 days?" Johnson said. "Yes, I think that will dampen the generous spirit of people in the U.S. who want to go help."

Johnson was echoed by Dr. Rick Sacra, a Massachusetts physician who was infected with Ebola while doing medical aid work in Liberia. He was evacuated to a specialized treatment center in Nebraska, recovered and was released last month.

"A three-week complete quarantine would eliminate two-thirds to three-quarters of the volunteers from the U.S." going to West Africa, he said. "They wouldn't be able to spare the time."

___

Medical writer Maria Cheng in London; Science writer Malcolm Ritter in New York; AP writers Erica Werner and Matthew Daly in Washington; Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations; Jonathan Lemire, Karen Matthews and Cameron Young in New York; Sarah DiLorenzo in Dakar, Senegal; Boubacar Diallo in Conakry, Guinea; Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia, Liberia, and John Heilprin in Geneva contributed to this report. Marchione reported from Milwaukee.

Latest News: Two U.S. states to quarantine health workers returning from Ebola zones

By David Morgan and Ellen Wulfhorst

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York and New Jersey will automatically quarantine all medical workers returning from Ebola-hit West African countries, and the U.S. government is considering the same step after a doctor who treated patients in Guinea came back infected, officials said on Friday.

The steps announced by the two states, which go beyond the current restrictions being imposed by the U.S. government on travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea, came as medical detectives tried to retrace the steps of the infected physician, Dr. Craig Spencer.

"Increasing the screening process is necessary. I think it reduces the risk to New Yorkers and the residents of New Jersey," said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo, who appeared with the governor of neighboring New Jersey, Chris Christie, at a news conference, had earlier in the day sought to reassure New Yorkers that Ebola's threat was limited the day after Spencer tested positive for the virus.

In Washington, President Barack Obama also sought to reassure a worried public with an Oval Office hug of Dallas nurse Nina Pham, who was declared Ebola-free on Friday after catching the virus from a Liberian patient who died.

But Republican lawmakers, many of whom for weeks have called for a tougher response to Ebola, continued their criticism of the administration at a congressional hearing.

In the first instance of the new move by the two governors, a female healthcare worker who had treated patients in West Africa and arrived at the Newark, New Jersey, airport was ordered into quarantine.

Cuomo said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had agreed that individual states have the right to exceed federal requirements.

A federal quarantine of healthcare workers returning to the United States from the three West African countries was one of a number of options being discussed by administration officials, Tom Skinner, a CDC spokesman, told Reuters.

Dr. Spencer, 33, who spent a month with the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders in Guinea, was the fourth person diagnosed with the virus in the United States and the first in its largest city.

Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, New York's health commissioner, said Spencer was awake and talking to family and friends by cellphone and was listed in stable condition in Bellevue Hospital's isolation unit.

The Obama administration has implemented a series of steps aimed at preventing the further spread of Ebola in the United States but has stopped short of a travel ban on people from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea called for by some politicians

The United States is funneling travelers from those countries through five airports conducting special screening for signs of infection and is requiring them to report to health authorities for the 21-day Ebola virus incubation period. The airports include a New York City airport and a New Jersey airport that serve the metropolitan area.

"We want to strike the right balance of doing what is best to protect the public’s health while not impeding whatsoever our ability to combat the epidemic in West Africa. Our risk here will not be zero until we stop the epidemic there," Skinner said.

NURSE RELEASED

Pham, one of two nurses from a Dallas hospital infected with Ebola after treating the first patient diagnosed with the disease in the United States, walked out smiling and unassisted from the Bethesda, Maryland hospital where she was treated.

Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and the CDC also confirmed that the other nurse, Amber Vinson, no longer had detectable levels of virus but did not set a date for her to leave that facility.

Pham, who was transferred to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, from the Dallas hospital on Oct. 16, thanked her doctors at a news briefing.

Looking fit in a dark blazer and a turquoise blouse, Pham said that even though she no longer is infected, "I know that it may be a while before I have my strength back." She said she looked forward to seeing her family and her dog.

Photos of the Oval Office meeting showed Obama hugging Pham. Reporters and television cameras were not allowed in for the meeting.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he could not pinpoint any one factor that contributed to Pham’s speedy recovery. He said it could be any of a number of factors, including the fact that “she's young and very healthy” and was able to get intensive care very quickly.

Spencer finished his work in Guinea on Oct. 12 and arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Oct. 17. Six days later, he was quarantined at Bellevue Hospital with Ebola. The three previous cases diagnosed in the United States were in Dallas.

Three people who had close contact with Spencer were quarantined for observation. The doctor's fiancée was among them and was isolated at the same hospital, and all three were still healthy, officials said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said city health department detectives were retracing all the steps taken by Spencer, but said the doctor poses no threat to others and urged New Yorkers to stick to their daily routines.

Health officials emphasized that the virus is not airborne but is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person who is showing symptoms.

U.S. stocks closed out their best week since January 2013 as concerns over the possible spread of Ebola that arose after Spencer was diagnosed eased. [.N]

The worst Ebola outbreak since the disease was identified in 1976 has killed at least 4,877 people and perhaps as many as 15,000, predominantly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Spencer's case brought to nine the total number of people treated for Ebola in U.S. hospitals since August. Just two, the nurses who treated Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan, contracted the virus in the United States. Duncan died on Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where Pham and Vinson were infected.

Obama's response to Ebola ran into fresh criticism from Republicans during the congressional hearing.

Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California, who chairs the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, blasted the "bumbling" administration response, saying it had been characterized by missteps and ill-considered procedures to protect U.S. healthcare workers at home and troops in West Africa.

Local officials told New Yorkers they were safe even though Spencer had ridden subways, taken a cab and visited a bowling alley in Brooklyn between his return from Guinea and the onset of symptoms. Authorities on Friday declared the bowling alley safe.

Cuomo said that unlike in Dallas, New York officials had time to thoroughly prepare and drill for the possibility of a case emerging in the city.

"From a public health point of view, I feel confident that we’re doing everything that we should be doing, and we have the situation under control," Cuomo said.

(Additional reporting by Edward McAllister, Sebastien Malo, Frank McGurty, Barbara Goldberg, Luc Cohen, Robert Gibbons, Natasja Sheriff, Frank McGurty, Jonathan Allen, Ellen Wulfhorst and Laila Kearney in New York, and Bill Trott, Steve Holland, David Morgan and Toni Clarke in Washington; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Latest News: Girl dies of Ebola in Mali's first case: government source

A two-year-old girl died of Ebola in Mali on Friday, in the first case of the disease in the west African nation, a source in the prime minister's office told AFP.

"Unfortunately she died between 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm," said the source, adding that the girl's death had been confirmed by the governor of the western region of Kayes.

The girl had recently returned to Mali from neighbouring Guinea, one of the countries most affected by an epidemic that has killed nearly 4,900 people.

Latest News: As Ebola reaches New York, what you need to know

NEW YORK (AP) — Now that a doctor in New York has been diagnosed with Ebola, health officials are once again stressing that the virus poses little risk in the U.S.

Some questions and answers about Ebola:

WHAT IS EBOLA?

Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a rare and deadly disease caused by a virus that is believed to have originated in African bats. Symptoms can start with fever, muscle pain and weakness, and progress to bleeding, vomiting, and severe diarrhea that can lead to organ failure and death. There have been dozens of small outbreaks since the illness was first identified in 1976, but largest Ebola epidemic in history broke out this year in West Africa and so far has killed more than 4,800 people there.

HOW IS EBOLA SPREAD?

Experts say people infected with Ebola are contagious only when they are showing symptoms. It spreads through direct contact with an Ebola patient's blood or other bodily fluids like urine, saliva, semen and sweat. Those fluids must have an entry point, like a cut or scrape, or the mouth, nose or eyes. In a similar manner, people in West Africa have been infected through contact with dead bodies as part of burial preparations.

HOW IS IT TREATED?

Since there's no specific treatment, care is focused on easing symptoms to give the body enough time to fight off an infection. Patients are given fluids, nutrients and medicines to counter the fluid loss. Experimental treatments have been tried on several patients, but it's not clear how much of a difference they've made.

CAN I CATCH IT ON THE SUBWAY?

Not likely. Experts say it cannot be spread in the air by sneezing or coughing. The highest concentration of virus is thought to be in blood, vomit and diarrhea. So there's little risk of catching the virus from someone on the subway, in an elevator, or on the street. Experts point to the first Ebola illness ever diagnosed in the United States — a Liberian man who became sick while visiting Dallas. He was living with four other people in an apartment when he first became ill and none of them has come down with the illness.

WHAT HAPPENED IN NEW YORK?

A New York physician, Dr. Craig Spencer, had been working as medical volunteer treating patients in Guinea. He returned to the New York Oct. 17, and came down with a fever and symptoms Thursday. He is in isolation in New York's Bellevue Hospital Center. His fiancee is in quarantine at the hospital, and two friends are in voluntary quarantine. Spencer is the fifth U.S. medical aid worker infected in West Africa and treated in the United States. But the others were diagnosed in West Africa, evacuated to the United States and taken directly to specialized isolation units. Spencer's infection wasn't discovered until he'd been back several days.

CAN THE SPREAD OF EBOLA BE STOPPED?

Yes, by isolating everyone with symptoms while testing is done, using proper protective equipment and other precautions while caring for them, and tracking down anyone they were in close contact with when they got sick. Those who have had direct contact with an Ebola patient are advised to take their temperature twice a day for three weeks, the incubation period for the disease. If they show symptoms, they should then be isolated and tested. Ebola is not a particularly hardy virus on surfaces outside the body, and can be killed with household beach and hospital-grade disinfectants.

___

Online:

CDC Ebola page: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/about.html

Latest News: U.S. officials considering quarantines for returning healthcare workers

By Sebastien Malo and Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Obama administration is considering quarantines for healthcare workers returning from Ebola-ravaged West African countries, an official said on Friday, as authorities in New York retraced the steps of a doctor with the disease.

In Washington, President Barack Obama hugged a Dallas nurse who survived Ebola after catching it from a patient.

Quarantining healthcare workers returning to the United States from the Ebola "hot zone" was one of a number of options being discussed by officials from across the administration, Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told Reuters.

The CDC-led discussions began on Thursday after Dr. Craig Spencer tested positive for the disease that day after returning to New York from West Africa.

Spencer, 33, a New Yorker who spent a month with the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders working with Ebola patients in Guinea, was the fourth person diagnosed with the virus in the United States and the first in its largest city.

He was awake and talking to family and friends on a cellphone and was listed in stable condition in Bellevue Hospital's isolation unit, said Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, New York's health commissioner. The CDC confirmed the diagnosis on Friday.

Officials urged New Yorkers not to worry. Obama's embrace in the White House Oval Office with nurse Nina Pham, who was declared Ebola-free on Friday, seemed to underscore the message that the disease's threat was limited.

Pham, one of two nurses from a Dallas hospital infected with Ebola after treating the first patient diagnosed with the disease in the United States, walked out smiling and unassisted from the Bethesda, Maryland hospital where she had been treated.

Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and the CDC also confirmed that the other nurse, Amber Vinson, no longer had detectable levels of virus but did not set a date for her to leave that facility.

Spencer finished his work in Guinea on Oct. 12 and arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Oct. 17.

Six days later, he was quarantined at Bellevue Hospital with Ebola, unnerving financial markets amid concern the virus may spread in the city. The three previous cases diagnosed in the United States were in Dallas.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said city health department detectives were retracing all the steps taken by Spencer, but said the doctor poses no threat to others and urged New Yorkers to stick with their daily routines.

"We are, as always, looking at each individual contact," he said.

Health officials emphasized that the virus is not airborne but is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person who is showing symptoms.

Three people who had close contact with Spencer were quarantined for observation. The doctor's fiancée was among them and was isolated at the same hospital, and all three were still healthy, officials said.

U.S. stock markets shook off Ebola fears on Friday after paring gains late on Thursday following initial reports about Spencer's case. [.N]

The worst Ebola outbreak on record has killed at least 4,877 people and perhaps as many as 15,000, predominantly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Spencer's case brought to nine the total number of people treated for Ebola in U.S. hospitals since August. Just two, the nurses who treated Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan, contracted the virus in the United States. Duncan died on Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where Pham and Vinson were infected.

Officials told New Yorkers they were safe even though Spencer had ridden subways, taken a cab and visited a bowling alley in Brooklyn between his return from Guinea and the onset of symptoms. Authorities on Friday declared the bowling alley safe.

New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo said that unlike in Dallas, where the two hospital nurses treating Duncan contracted the disease, New York officials had time to thoroughly prepare and drill for the possibility of a case emerging in the city.

"From a public health point of view, I feel confident that we’re doing everything that we should be doing, and we have the situation under control," Cuomo said.

LEAVING THE HOSPITAL

Pham, who was transferred to the U.S. National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, from the Dallas hospital on Oct. 16, appeared at a news briefing and thanked her doctors.

Looking fit in a dark blazer and a turquoise blouse, Pham said that even though she no longer is infected, "I know that it may be a while before I have my strength back." She said she looked forward to seeing her family and her dog.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama brought Pham in for a meeting to recognise her for doing her job at the Dallas hospital. Earnest said, "I think this also should be a pretty apt reminder that we do have the best medical infrastructure in the world."

Photographs of the meeting showed Obama hugging Pham. Reporters and television cameras were not allowed in for the meeting.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he could not pinpoint any one factor that contributed to Pham’s speedy recovery. He said it could be any of a number of factors, including the fact that “she's young and very healthy” and was able to get intensive care very quickly.

Pham received donated blood plasma from Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted Ebola working in Liberia for a Christian relief group and survived after being treated with an experimental drug. Brantly was released from a hospital in August.

It is believed that antibodies that fight the virus in the blood of Ebola survivors can help other patients fight it, too. Pham made a point of thanking Brantly upon her release.

Cuomo said Spencer checked into the hospital when he realized he had a temperature of 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit, suggesting he may have caught the onset of symptoms early.

Obama's response to Ebola ran into fresh criticism from Republicans in Congress during a hearing on Friday.

Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California, who chairs the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, blasted the "bumbling" administration response, characterized by missteps and ill-considered procedures to protect U.S. healthcare workers at home and troops in West Africa.

Republicans have made criticism of Obama's Ebola response part of their campaign to win full control of Congress in next month's elections.

New Yorkers offered a mixed reaction to the news as they headed to work on Friday.

Mollie Kirk, a 29-year-old laboratory worker who lives in Manhattan's Harlem neighbourhood, walked past a newspaper stand with "Ebola" splashed in large letters across the front pages as she headed toward a downtown subway.

"I'm much more afraid of this year's flu; it kills much more people," she said.

Raschell Martinez, a 27-year-old social worker who lives in the Bronx, said she was "very fearful" after emerging from the subway in Harlem, following what she described as an anguished ride. "Every time I go in the subway I try not to touch any poles," she said.

(Additional reporting by Edward McAllister, Sebastien Malo, Frank McGurty, Barbara Goldberg, Luc Cohen, Robert Gibbons, Natasja Sheriff, Jonathan Allen, Ellen Wulfhorst and Laila Kearney in New York, and Bill Trott, Steve Holland, David Morgan and Toni Clarke in Washington; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Latest News: NY and NJ say they will require Ebola quarantines

NEW YORK (AP) — The governors of New Jersey and New York said Friday they are ordering a mandatory, 21-day quarantine for all doctors and other travelers who have had contact with Ebola victims in West Africa.

The move came after a New York City doctor who returned to the U.S. a week ago from treating Ebola victims in Guinea was diagnosed with the lethal disease.

Many New Yorkers and others were dismayed to learn that in the week before he was hospitalized, Dr. Craig Spencer rode the subway, took a cab, went bowling, visited a coffee shop and ate at a restaurant.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the case forced them to conclude that the two states need guidelines more rigorous than those of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends voluntary quarantines.

"It's too serious a situation to leave it to the honor system of compliance," Cuomo said.

Spencer's illness led lawmakers on Capitol Hill, scientists and ordinary New Yorkers to wonder why he was out on the town after his return from West Africa — and why stronger steps weren't being taken to quarantine medical workers.

Health officials said he followed U.S. and international protocols in checking his temperature every day and watching for symptoms, and put no one at risk. But others said he should have been quarantined — that is, kept away from others, either voluntarily or by the government — during Ebola's 21-day incubation period.

An automatic three-week quarantine makes sense for anyone "with a clear exposure" to Ebola, said Dr. Richard Wenzel, a Virginia Commonwealth University scientist who formerly led the International Society for Infectious Diseases.

Doctors Without Borders, the group Spencer was working for, said in a statement that that would be going too far. People with Ebola aren't contagious until symptoms begin, and even then it requires close contact with body fluids.

"As long as a returned staff member does not experience any symptoms, normal life can proceed," the organization said in a statement.

Aid organizations also warned that many health care volunteers wouldn't go to Ebola hot zones if they knew they would be confined to their homes for three weeks after they got back.

On the streets of New York, Michael Anderson was critical of the U.S. government and Spencer.

"He's stupid, a complete idiot" for moving about in public, the longtime Manhattan resident said at Grand Central Station. "It's his responsibility when you come back from Africa" not to put people at risk, he said.

In other developments:

— One of the two Dallas nurses who caught Ebola from a patient was declared virus-free and released from a hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. Nina Pham, 26, said she felt "fortunate and blessed to be standing here today." She later met with President Barack Obama at the White House. The other nurse, Amber Vinson, is in an Atlanta hospital, where she was said to "making good progress."

— Millions of doses of two experimental Ebola vaccines could be ready for use in 2015, and five more experimental vaccines will start being tested in March, the World Health Organization said.

— In Mali, which reported its first case this week, authorities warned that many people are in danger because the toddler who brought the disease to the country was bleeding from her nose as she traveled on a bus from Guinea.

Nearly 4,900 people have died in the Ebola outbreak, most of them in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Spencer, a 33-year-old emergency room doctor, returned from Guinea on Oct. 17 and sought treatment Thursday after suffering diarrhea and a 100.3-degree fever. He was listed in stable condition at a special isolation unit at Bellevue Hospital Center, and a decontamination company was sent to his Harlem home. His fiancee, who was not showing symptoms, was being watched in a quarantine ward at Bellevue.

The idea of broader quarantine is a topic "actively being discussed. It's going to be something that will be discussed at federal level," said Dr. Mary Bassett, New York City's health commissioner.

Lawmakers from both parties criticized the federal government's Ebola response.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., said anyone coming from West Africa should be quarantined for 21 days abroad before even boarding a plane to this country.

"This can't just be about ideology and happy talk," Lynch said. "We need to be very deliberate, take it much more seriously than I'm hearing today."

The World Health Organization is not recommending the quarantine of returning aid workers without symptoms, according to spokeswoman Sona Bari.

"Health care workers are generally self-monitoring and are aware of the need to report any symptoms, as this patient did," she wrote in an email.

Bruce Johnson, president of SIM USA, a Christian organization based in North Carolina, said its staffers are told to follow guidelines established by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for their first 21 days in the U.S. Beyond that, he said, they are told to avoid crowded public areas.

Johnson said his staff members would not be deterred from serving in Ebola-stricken countries if they were required to remain isolated in their homes for 21 days upon their return. But such measures could discourage volunteers, he said.

Nurses, doctors and others who hold down regular jobs back home would say, "I want to go over and help for a month, but now you're telling me that when I get back I can't go to work for 21 days?" Johnson said. "Yes, I think that will dampen the generous spirit of people in the U.S. who want to go help."

Johnson was echoed by Dr. Rick Sacra, a Massachusetts physician who was infected with Ebola while doing medical aid work in Liberia. He was evacuated to a specialized treatment center in Nebraska, recovered and was released last month.

"A three-week complete quarantine would eliminate two-thirds to three-quarters of the volunteers from the U.S." going to West Africa, he said. "They wouldn't be able to spare the time."

Samaritan's Purse, a Christian relief organization based in North Carolina, said that its returning aid workers spend three weeks quarantined in a "safe house," where their temperatures are monitored.

They can go out for things like a walk in the park or a visit to the drive-thru of a fast-food restaurant, but are asked to stay away from crowds and are isolated from their families, said Franklin Graham, president of the organization.

Graham said the federal government should rent out a hotel — perhaps one in the Caribbean, to ease public fears — and then staff it with doctors and quarantine all returning health care workers there for three weeks.

"They can sit by the pool and eat hamburgers," Graham said. "I would call it a country club quarantine and let them just relax and cool their heels. ... It's an inconvenience, but it is not a hardship."

___

Medical writer Maria Cheng in London; Science writer Malcolm Ritter in New York; AP writers Erica Werner and Matthew Daly in Washington; Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations; Cameron Young in New York; Sarah DiLorenzo in Dakar, Senegal; Boubacar Diallo in Conakry, Guinea; Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia, Liberia, and John Heilprin in Geneva contributed to this report. Marchione reported from Milwaukee.

Latest News: Dallas nurse receives thanks, hug from Obama

BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — A nurse who caught Ebola while caring for a Dallas patient who died of the disease walked out of a Washington-area hospital virus-free Friday and into open arms.

Nina Pham got a hug from President Barack Obama in the Oval Office at the White House. Outside the hospital where she has been since last week, she got hugs from one of the doctors who oversaw her care.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the meeting with Obama "an opportunity for the president to thank her for her service." But the close contact between the president and the former patient also came as officials in New York tried to calm fears after a doctor was diagnosed with Ebola in that city.

Pham said she felt "fortunate and blessed to be standing here today," as she left the National Institutes of Health's Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where she had been since she arrived Oct. 16 from Dallas' Texas Presbyterian Hospital.

Pham thanked her health care teams in Dallas and at the NIH and singled out fellow Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly, who recovered after becoming infected in Liberia, for donating plasma containing Ebola-fighting antibodies as part of her care.

"Although I no longer have Ebola, I know it may be a while before I have my strength back," Pham said at a news conference.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the NIH and the doctor who hugged her, told reporters that five consecutive tests showed no virus left in her blood. Five tests is way beyond the norm, he stressed, but his team did extra testing because the NIH is a research hospital.

"She is cured of Ebola, let's get that clear," Fauci said.

Pham stood throughout the approximately 20-minute press conference and was joined by her mother and sister. She read from a prepared statement and took no questions, but she called her experience "very stressful and challenging for me and for my family."

"I ask for my privacy and for my family's privacy to be respected as I return to Texas and try to get back to a normal life and reunite with my dog Bentley," she said, drawing laughter with the mention of her 1-year-old King Charles spaniel. Bentley has been in quarantine since Pham's diagnosis but has tested negative for the virus.

Pham is one of two nurses in Dallas who became infected with Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, who traveled to the United States from Liberia and died of the virus Oct. 8. The second nurse, Amber Vinson, is being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, which on Friday issued a statement saying she "is making good progress" and that tests no longer detect virus in her blood.

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Associated Press writers Lauran Neergaard and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.

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