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New York Ebola patient is in stable condition, city official says

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The doctor being treated for Ebola in a New York City hospital is in stable condition, the city's health commissioner said on Friday.

Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, the health commissioner, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had also confirmed the diagnosis of Ebola for Dr. Craig Spencer, a 33-year-old New Yorker who had recently returned from Guinea in West Africa.

(Reporting by Frank McGurty; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Fear and indifference leave West Africa desperate for Ebola staff

By David Lewis

DAKAR (Reuters) - When Australia offered more than $2 million (1.24 million pound) last month to the medical charity leading the fight against Ebola in West Africa, Medecins Sans Frontieres bluntly rejected it.

What was urgently needed from rich Western countries, MSF said, was not more money but doctors and nurses.

Despite warnings that hundreds of thousands may die, foreign governments and organisations are still hesitating to dispatch highly trained civilian and military personnel to fight the worst ever outbreak of the deadly virus.

Even in the highly controlled environments in the West, two U.S. nurses and one Spaniard have contracted the disease, putting its dangers in sharp focus for Western governments and news media.

On Thursday, a New York City doctor who worked for MSF in Guinea became the organisation's third foreign medic to contract the disease while treating people in West Africa.

The contrast with other humanitarian disasters, from the Haitian earthquake to the 2004 Asian Tsunami is stark. Aid workers say it can partly be explained by unease over Ebola's deadly nature, uncertainty over how to look after infected staff, and competing demands from other crises around the world.

With nearly 5,000 recorded deaths, and estimates the real toll is likely to be three times higher, governments and health organisations have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars.

But the World Health Organization said this week that just 25 percent of the isolation beds needed to halt the disease's march through Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia are in place.

The WHO estimates that 1,000 foreign medical workers and 20,000 locals are needed to man the 50 Ebola treatment units due to be rolled out across the three worst effected nations.

So far, the WHO says there are firm commitments from foreign teams for just 30 of these Ebola units.

"The big gap is still in human resources," said Manuel Fontaine, head of U.N. child agency UNICEF in West Africa. "Money is necessary. It is an expensive operation. But we need people."

In order to get Ebola under control, U.N. organisations estimate they must get 70 percent of all cases into treatment centres and ensure 70 percent of those who die of Ebola are buried safely. They hope to achieve that within two months.

"It seems like it should be feasible but there is a lot of concern about bringing back infections," he said.


Without doubt, treating Ebola is dangerous. At least 443 health workers are known to have contracted Ebola, of whom 244 have died.

Donors are stumping up millions of dollars to pay local healthcare workers risk bonuses following a rash of strikes.

"Building ETUs (Ebola treatments units) is the easy part, the more challenging and more dangerous part is making them run safely. To stay safe you have to think through thousands of details," said Sean Casey, who runs one such unit for the International Medical Corps in Bong County in northern Liberia.

After the Haiti earthquake, Casey said "hundreds if not thousands" volunteered. This was party due to geography but also as they were able to work for two weeks at a time.

A stint fighting Ebola in West Africa involves six weeks in the region and another three away from work to avoid potentially infecting hospitals back home, he said.

Casey said organisations were often reluctant to tackle the disease. "In Haiti, everyone was there on the ground. Here all the usual actors have not responded to the call for help and some have even pulled out their staff," he said.

U.S. charity Samaritans Purse withdrew non-essential staff treating patients in July after two of its members caught Ebola. It has since returned but is not providing frontline care.

Trevor Hughes, director of security and risk management at U.S.-based International Relief and Development, which has staff on the ground, said Ebola was testing the limits of people who are used to volunteering for crises.

"There is an issue of the obvious, which is certainly fear," he said, adding that while organisations offered training, equipment and support, volunteers still worried about issues like insurance, logistics and whether sufficient standards were being maintained in a chaotic crisis zone.


One major issue had been the lack of guarantees that volunteers would be evacuated to Western hospitals if they fell ill. U.S. and EU officials have since guaranteed this.

"There will be a mark when the logistics and other things will be in place, when there is a little bit more trust being built, and people will start heading out," Hughes said.

"It might be too little too late," he added.

Some aid workers suggest that the strategic importance of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea was not high enough to mobilise major resources until people in the United States and Europe fell ill and it became an issue in the West.

Citing the case of an Ebola treatment centre in Macenta, Guinea, one aid worker said France was putting up financing but then "sub-contracting" the construction and operation of these units to non-governmental groups.

"France says it is building it but in fact it is being built by MSF and it will be run by the Red Cross," she said.

The United States has pledged more cash and manpower than any other nation - up to $1 billion and as many as 4,000 troops. But U.S. personnel will build treatment units and train local staff, not provide care. Britain is adopting a similar strategy.

"When the risk is very high, the West is not going to send a lot of its own people," Dakar-based independent West African political analyst Gilles Yabi told Reuters.

Cuba, however, has bucked the trend, with Havana training up 461 doctors and nurses so they can help fight Ebola. So far, 256 have been dispatched to West Africa.

Having been criticised for not doing enough to help while also imposing border closures and travel restrictions that have hurt Ebola-hit nations, African nations are now starting to pledge medics.

Doctors from Uganda, with years of experience fighting Ebola, are helping run a clinic in Monrovia. Congo, which has faced six outbreaks back home, is training 1,000 volunteers.

East African Nations have promised over 600 health workers and Nigeria, which has successfully contained its Ebola cases this year, has pledged 500 medics.

Ian Quick, director at Rethink Fragility, an organisation that focuses on fragile states, said the Ebola response was echoing current trends international peacekeeping, where rich states provide funds but poor nations send personnel.

“It makes sense in terms of comparative advantage ... but does tend to stick in everyone's craw ethically.”

(Additional reporting by Daniel Flynn in Dakar, Pascal Fletcher in Johannesburg, and Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Giles Elgood)

Suspicious powder sent to western consulates in Istanbul - officials

By Jonny Hogg

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Packets of an unidentified yellow powder were sent to five western consulates in Istanbul on Friday, officials said, prompting security alerts following two militant attacks in Canada this week.

Consulates of the United States, Canada, France, Germany and Belgium received suspicious packages, the officials said. It was not immediately clear what the powder was and Turkish officials said results of tests on them were due on Monday.

Sixteen people were hospitalised as a precaution from three different embassies, including 10 from the Canadian consulate, the Turkish Ministry of Health said in a statement. A hospital treating the Canadians said the Consul General was among them.

One Canadian consulate employee came into direct contact with the package and six others had indirect exposure, Turkey's disaster management agency AFAD said in a statement.

German and Belgian consular staff were also being monitored in hospital, the Ministry of Health added.

A U.S. embassy spokesman confirmed the Consulate General had received a "suspicious" envelope containing a powder, but said it was dealt with according to security protocols and the consulate remained open.

Istanbul's governor later confirmed the French consulate had also received a similar package.

Teams decontaminated the Canadian and Belgium consulates and were working on cleaning the German mission, AFAD spokesman Dogan Eskinat said. Other consulates and embassies were reviewing their security arrangements.

"There was a package with some yellow powder, suspicious, that was sent to the Canadian mission in Istanbul, it was sent to a number of other foreign missions," Canada’s foreign affairs minister John Baird said in Ottawa

"Out of an abundance of caution we've closed the mission until we can ensure the safety of all our employees."

Canadian consulates and embassies overseas have been on heightened alert this week after two attacks in Canada.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, a Canadian citizen and convert to Islam, shot and killed a soldier stationed at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Wednesday before running into the nearby parliament buildings. He was killed by guards in a flurry of gunfire.

Two days earlier, Martin Rouleau, a 25-year-old convert to Islam, drove over two Canadian soldiers in Quebec, killing one, police said. He also was shot dead by security officers.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay in Istanbul, Jonny Hogg and Yesim Dikmen in Ankara, Writing by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Doctor with Ebola in New York stable; nurse is virus-free

By Ellen Wulfhorst and Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Authorities retraced the steps of an American doctor with Ebola, who was listed Friday in stable condition at a New York hospital's isolation unit, while seeking to reassure a jittery public that the threat from the virus was limited.

Dr. Craig Spencer, 33, who was infected after working with Ebola patients in West Africa, on Thursday became the fourth person diagnosed with the disease in the United States and the first in its largest city.

Spencer was awake and talking to family and friends on a cellphone, Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, New York's health commissioner, said at a news conference.

Meanwhile, Nina 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, was declared virus-free. She walked out smiling and unassisted from the Maryland hospital where she had been treated.

The White House said President Barack Obama will meet with Pham in the Oval Office later in the day.

An Atlanta hospital and federal health officials 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 was quarantined at Bellevue Hospital six days after returning from Guinea, 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 health officials are retracing all the steps taken Spencer, but urged New Yorkers not to worry and to stick with their daily routines.

Three people who had close contact with Spencer, a physician who volunteered for the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, were quarantined for observation. The doctor's fiancée was among them and isolated at the same hospital, and all three were still healthy, officials said. [ID:nL2N0SI3IM]

U.S. stock markets shook off Ebola fears on Friday, with the S&P 500 rising 0.5 percent to 1,959.71 in afternoon trading. [.N] Wall Street fell late Thursday after the New York City case was confirmed. U.S. Treasury bonds, which earlier rallied on safe-haven bets, were little changed.

"I think the fears are a bit overdone, said Caroline Vincent, European equities fund manager at Cavendish Asset Management. "In previous cases, such as avian flu, the virus ended up being contained quite quickly."

The worst Ebola outbreak on record has killed at least 4,877 people and perhaps as many as 15,000, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). [ID:nL2N0SG118] [ID:nL6N0SH5ER]

Officials sought to reassure New Yorkers they were safe, even though Spencer had ridden subways, taken a cab and visited a bowling alley between his return from Guinea and the onset of symptoms.

New York 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," 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.

Obama's response to Ebola ran into fresh criticism from Republicans in Congress during a hearing on Friday. [ID:nL2N0SI3DX]


Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California, who chairs the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, blasted what he described as a "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.

Spencer's case brings to nine the total number of people treated for Ebola in U.S. hospitals since August, but just two, Duncan's nurses, 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.

Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, New York's health commissioner, said Spencer was in stable condition and that federal health officials had confirmed his diagnosis.

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.

"It may be a while before I have my strength back," she said.

"She has no virus in her. She feels well. She looks extraordinarily well," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

After taking his own temperature twice a day since his return, Spencer reported running a fever and experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms for the first time early on Thursday.

He was then taken from his Manhattan apartment to Bellevue by a special team wearing protective gear, city officials said.

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. Some reports had put Spencer's temperature at 103 degrees, but that turned out not to have been the case.

The driver of the taxi Spencer took was not considered to be at risk, and officials insisted the three subway lines he rode before falling ill remained safe. The bowling alley has been cleared by local health officials to reopen.

As New Yorkers headed to work on Friday, some were unfazed by the news, while others said it added to their anxieties about the perils of living in a crowded city. [ID:nL2N0SJ19S]

Mollie Kirk, a 29-year-old laboratory worker who lives in Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood, 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. "People just mis-evaluate probability and risk because the outcome is horrible. You see the pictures in Africa."

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. "People are getting it anyways. And especially the ones who are caring for those with the illness, the nurses, doctors ... despite wearing all this protective gear."

The city health commissioner said Spencer completed work in Guinea on Oct. 12 and arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Oct. 17.

Spencer is due to marry his fiancée, Morgan Dixon, in Detroit on Sept. 5, 2015, according to their online wedding announcement. The couple met in China, where both studied at Henan University, according to their online resumés.

"Craig's friends say he's a goofball, incredible, gifted in both art, music and science, and a go-getter," the announcement says.

Spencer has specialized in international emergency medicine at Columbia University-New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City since 2011. Columbia said in a statement he had not been to work nor seen any patients since his return.

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

New York 'fully prepared' to handle Ebola case

New York's mayor said America's largest city was fully equipped to handle Ebola as authorities sought to calm fears Friday about the virus spreading, after a doctor tested positive for the disease.

Craig Spencer, 33, was in stable condition in isolation at Bellevue Hospital Center on Friday after testing positive for the illness, which has killed nearly 4,900 people in West Africa.

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

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

New York, one of the largest points of entry in the United States, had been braced for months for a possible Ebola case. Spencer, is the city's first case and the first diagnosed in the United States outside Texas.

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

Health officials said one of the two women, Nina Pham, has been declared free of the virus and was released from the hospital on Friday.

Relatives of the other nurse, Amber Vinson, said she was declared free of Ebola earlier this week.

"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."

"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.

On Friday, crews in full protective dress arrived outside Spencer's apartment building in West Harlem. De Blasio said the apartment was "locked and isolated" and "the only area of concern in the building."

De Blasio urged anyone who has travelled to one of the three Ebola-afflicted countries in West Africa -- Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone -- in the last 21 days and has a fever to call 911 or go immediately to a hospital emergency room.

"We have no other cases reported but it's important that people understand that is the protocol," he said.

-New Yorkers 'not at risk'-

Authorities stepped up efforts Friday to allay fears of casual infection after it emerged that Spencer had ridden the subway, visited a bowling alley, public garden, coffee shop and restaurant before going to hospital.

"It cannot be transmitted through casual contact, it cannot be transmitted in an airborne fashion," said de Blasio. "New Yorkers who have not been exposed to an infected person are simply not at risk," he said.

Health department detectives have traced all his prior movements, visiting each establishment and are clearing them from any risk.

Republican politicians -- and some New Yorkers -- have expressed outrage that the doctor moved freely through the city. Some have called for a mandatory quarantine for health workers returning from Ebola-afflicted countries.

"I think we immediately need to look at travel bans and quarantines," Republican Congressman from Utah Jason Chaffetz told CNN.

"I don't buy into the idea of a self-quarantine. That's obviously not working," said Chaffetz, a member of a committee which is holding a hearing on the response to Ebola on Friday.

New York's JFK airport introduced health screenings on October 11.

Spencer flew home on October 17, arriving via Europe, at JFK. He is a fellow of international emergency medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

The hospital called him a "dedicated humanitarian" who went to help a desperately underserved population and did not return to work since his return.

"He is a committed and responsible physician who always puts his patients first," it said in a statement.

"Our thoughts are with him, and we wish him all the best at this time."

The bowling alley he visited on Wednesday, The Gutter, announced that it had closed voluntarily on Thursday evening "as a precautionary measure" but expected to reopen on Friday after being sanitized.

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