MADRID - He was the first patient evacuated to Europe with the deadly Ebola virus, and now Father Miguel Pajares will become the first European to be treated with the experimental drug ZMapp.
The 75-year-old Spanish priest, who contracted the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia, is slated to undergo treatment in Madrid under state medical protocols allowing the use of “unauthorized medications” when the patient’s life is in danger, according to the Spanish health ministry.
The drug, produced by Mapp Biopharmaceutical in San Diego, has been tested on monkeys but had never been tried on humans until earlier this month, when two U.S. missionaries were treated with it shortly before being evacuated from Liberia to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
One of the missionaries, Dr. Kent Brantly, said in a letter posted online Thursday that he now feels “stronger” since arriving at Emory Hospital and receiving care in an isolated room.
“Every day I am stronger, and I thank God for his mercy as I fought against this terrible disease,” said Dr. Brantly in a statement released by Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief organization with which he was serving when he contracted Ebola.
Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, vice president for global health at Emory University, told NBC News that the current outbreak, the worst in history, is “clearly going to take months” to contain, noting that the disease has already taken root in heavily populated urban areas.
A World Health Organization medical-ethics panel is scheduled to meet Monday to discuss whether ZMapp should be made available to hospitals in the West African countries at the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak: Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
So far 1,779 cases of Ebola and 961 deaths have been reported in West Africa, according to Aug. 6 figures from the World Health Organization.
Mr. Pajares, who was transported Thursday from Liberia to Carlos III Hospital in Madrid in a specially equipped military plane, remains in stable condition in an isolation ward. Also evacuated was a Spanish nun, Sister Juliana Bonoha Bohe, 65, who initially tested negative for Ebola but is being held in isolation at the hospital, according to Spanish media reports.
Both served as Catholic missionaries in the same hospital in Liberia as part of a program run by a religious order, The Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God.
Spanish media reported Sunday that two African nuns infected with Ebola who worked with the Spanish missionaries were denied permission to join them on the flight to Madrid. One of the African nuns, Sister Chantal Pascaline, died Saturday at San Jose Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia.
“Despite the priest’s hope that the two nuns would travel with him [to Spain], they were required to remain in Monrovia,” said the Spanish daily newspaper El Pais. “After the departure of Father Pajares and Sister Bonoha from Liberia, and after days of requesting that they be evacuated from the country, the ailing nuns had lost hope and were simply ‘waiting to die.’”
Ebola is spread by contact with bodily fluids, including blood, urine and saliva, but the virus is not airborne. The incubation period is 2 to 21 days, and the infection can only be contracted from patients who exhibit symptoms.
The mortality rate of the current Ebola outbreak is about 55 percent, much lower than previous outbreaks, but that death rate may rise as the contagion runs its course, according to experts cited in a Reuters report.
Kellan Howell in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.