WHO scientist begins treatment for Ebola

A man in special protection suit sits in an ambulance in front of the entrance of Eppendorf hospital in Hamburg, Germany, Wednesday Aug. 27, 2014. Officials say a Senegalese epidemiologist who was infected with Ebola while working for the World Health Organization in Sierra Leone has arrived in Germany for treatment.

Georg Wendt/AP

A scientist who was infected with Ebola while working for the World Health Organization in Sierra Leone began receiving treatment Wednesday in a Hamburg hospital after being flown overnight to Germany.

The man, whose name and condition are being withheld for patient privacy reasons, is being treated at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, home to the well-known Bernhard-Nocht Clinic for Tropical Medicine.

"Hamburg has a special expertise in caring for tropical diseases," said Internal Medicine director Ansgar Lohse. "That's the reason the request was addressed to us."

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib identified the patient as a man from Senegal infected while working for the agency as a consultant on epidemiology.

To date, WHO says more than 240 health care workers have developed the disease in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria; more than 120 have died. Early Wednesday morning, government officials reported that a third top doctor in Sierra Leone who contracted the virus has died.

Christy Feig, director of WHO communications, said a team of two experts was sent Tuesday to investigate how the infectious disease expert was exposed to the Ebola virus.

She said the epidemiologist was a surveillance officer, a job that typically involves coordinating the outbreak response by liaising with local health workers, lab experts and hospitals but not direct treatment of patients.

Dr. Stefan Schmiedel, who is helping oversee the treatment, said the clinic would not be using experimental medicine like the untested serum called ZMapp, which was given to two American aid workers earlier this month. Supplies of ZMapp have run out. Instead, the patient's treatment will concentrate on "supportive care" such as fever reduction and fluid management.

"In West Africa the patients die relatively quickly of the illness, or survive and then return to health," he said. "How that will go under our medical supervision, we can't yet estimate."

"He wasn't in treatment centers normally," she said by telephone from Sierra Leone. "It's possible he went in there and wasn't properly covered, but that's why we've taken this unusual measure - to try to figure out what happened."

She said the team is checking if there is an infection risk in the living and working environment that has not been uncovered.

"The international surge of health workers is extremely important and if something happens, if health workers get infected and it scares off other international health workers from coming, we will be in dire straits," she said.