A Third American Ebola Patient? Where Dr. Rick Sacra May Go In The U.S. For Treatment

Weeks after American health workers Nancy Writebol and Kent Brantly were cured of Ebola, another patient from the U.S. has been infected with the virus. Boston's Dr. Rick Sacra is the third American Ebola patient; he was helping to deliver babies in Liberia with missionary organization SIM USA when he contracted the disease. SIM announced at a news conference on Tuesday that Sacra is currently in isolation in Liberia, but what's next for the patient remains unclear.

Sacra, 51, who has done missionary work in Liberia in the past, returned to the West African country to help out about a month ago after Writebol and Brantly were diagnosed with Ebola. Writebol and Brantly are both colleagues of Sacra through SIM and Sim's partner organization Samarian's Purse, respectively. Sacra was helping out in the obstetrics unit of SIM's ELWA hospital in Monrovia and had not treated any Ebola patients, so it's unclear how he was infected.

According to a SIM spokesperson, Sacra is currently doing well and "in good spirits," and the organization will explore all options to help him recover. Another American worker has been dispatched to Liberia to look after him.

Both Writebol and Brantly were flown back to the U.S. for treatment at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where they were cured and discharged last month. But what lies ahead for Sacra? Taking into consideration Writebol and Brantly's treatment, as well as recent developments, here are some possible options:

Return Him to the U.S. For Treatment

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Like Writebol and Brantly, Sacra could return to the U.S. for treatment, possibly to the same hospital, Emory, and under the care of the same medical team, led by Dr. Bruce Ribner. Ribner told NBC's Today show that though he's aware of the potential return, the hospital unit in Liberia hasn't decided yet on his release.

Another option is to keep Sacra in isolation at the Monrovia hospital and treat him there. According to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, "People who are in much less sophisticated medical care conditions in West Africa are recovering 50 percent of the time."

Experimental Drugs

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Both Writebol and Brantly were given an experimental Ebola drug called ZMapp, which has been shown to be highly effective in fighting the Ebola virus, even in late stages of the disease. Out of the seven people who were issued the experimental drug, five have been cured, including the two American missionary workers.

Whether or not Sacra will be administered the drug will depend on how quickly its producers Mapp Pharmaceuticals can make more. The company announced last month that its supply of ZMapp, which has not been officially approved for human use, was completely exhausted but they were working with the proper government agencies to develop more.

Blood Transfusion

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In addition to ZMapp, Dr. Brantly was given a blood transfusion treatment called immune plasma infusion, which could have also contributed to curing him. For the treatment, the blood of an Ebola survivor, which is filled with antibodies that had successfully fought the disease, is injected into an infected individual to help immunize the patient.

It's highly probable that medical experts will consider administering the same infusion to Sacra. Like ZMapp, immune plasma infusion is also a relatively new and largely untested treatment, but it could potentially be a key piece in finding a cure. At this point, like SIM promised, we should be exploring all possible options for Sacra and Ebola patients in general.

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