US health officials defend Ebola response

Federal health officials said Thursday they still don't know how two nurses caught Ebola from a patient, as criticism increased from lawmakers who questioned whether the nation is prepared to stop the deadly virus from spreading in the US.

PTI| Updated: Oct 17, 2014, 00:48 AM IST

Washington: Federal health officials said Thursday they still don't know how two nurses caught Ebola from a patient, as criticism increased from lawmakers who questioned whether the nation is prepared to stop the deadly virus from spreading in the US.

The revelation that one of the hospital nurses was cleared to fly on a commercial airline the day before she was diagnosed raised new alarms about the American response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The death toll is expected to climb above 4,500 in Africa, all but a few within Liberia, Sierra Leone and New Guinea, the World Health Organisation said.

The first nurse stricken in the US, Nina Pham, who contracted Ebola after treating a Liberian man in Dallas, was being flown to the National Institutes of Health outside Washington, while a second nurse has already been transferred to a biohazard infectious disease center at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

The two nurses, Pham and Amber Joy Vinson, had been involved in providing care to Thomas Duncan, who died of Ebola last week.

In Washington, President Barack Obama directed his administration to respond in a "much more aggressive way" to the threat and, for the second day in a row, canceled his out-of-town trips to stay in Washington and monitor the Ebola response.

Even as Obama sought to calm new fears about Ebola in the US, he cautioned against letting them overshadow the far more urgent crisis unfolding in West Africa. Underscoring his emphasis on international action, Obama called European leaders yesterday to discuss better coordination in the fight against Ebola in West Africa and to issue a call for more money and personnel to "to bend the curve of the epidemic."

Today, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged continued support but made no specific new aid offers. China last month pledged USD 33 million in assistance and dispatched doctors and medical supplies.

In a hearing on Capitol Hill, the chairman of a House committee cited "demonstrated failures" in the government's response. Rep Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania said the "trust and credibility of the administration and government are waning as the American public loses confidence each day."

Seated before him were leaders of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NIH.