ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta/AP) — A Cambridge University disease expert warns that terrorists could be able to build a dirty bomb containing the Ebola virus.
Speaking to The Sun, biological anthropologist Dr. Peter Walsh says that the risk should be taken seriously of terror groups getting their hands on the Ebola virus.
“A bigger and more serious risk is that a group manages to harness the virus as a powder, then explodes it in a bomb in a highly populated area,” Walsh told The Sun. “It could cause a large number of horrific deaths.”
Walsh states that groups might try to harness the virus out of west African nations where the outbreak is prevalent.
“Only a handful of labs worldwide have the Ebola virus and they are extremely well protected. So the risk is that a terrorist group seeks to obtain the virus out in West Africa,” Walsh told The Sun.
Walsh added this scenario could “cause a large number of horrific deaths.”
“It is a threat that is taken very seriously,” Walsh told The Sun.
Walsh also said that the chance Ebola reaches the United Kingdom is small.
Two Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, contracted Ebola after working on the same medical mission team treating victims of the virus around Monrovia, Liberia. More than 1,300 people have been stricken, killing more than 800 of them in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
A Liberian government official has confirmed that a medical evacuation team is scheduled to fly Writebol back to the United States early Tuesday. She will receive treatment at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital alongside Brantly, who was admitted Saturday.
Brantly and Writebol contracted Ebola after working on the same medical mission team treating victims of the virus around Monrovia, Liberia. More than 1,300 people have been stricken, killing at least 729 of them in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Ebola has no vaccine or antidote. However, both Brantly and Writebol were given an experimental treatment last week, according to international relief group Samaritan’s Purse. Brantly works for the group, and the group originally said that only Writebol got the treatment. Brantly also received a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy, an Ebola survivor, who had been under his care, according to the organization.
Emory, where Brantly already is quarantined, boasts one of the nation’s most sophisticated infectious disease units. Patients are sealed off from anyone not in protective gear. Lab tests are conducted inside the unit, ensuring that viruses don’t leave the quarantined area. Family members see and communicate with patients through barriers.
Brantly’s wife released a statement Sunday saying she had gotten to see her husband, a physician with Samaritan’s Purse.
“Our family is rejoicing over Kent’s safe arrival, and we are confident that he is receiving the very best care,” Amber Brantly said.
Writebol and her husband, David, had been in Liberia since August 2013, sent there by the Christian organization SIM USA and sponsored by their home congregation at Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“They take the Great Commission literally,” said their pastor, the Rev. John Munro, referring to the instruction from Jesus Christ to “make disciples of all nations.”
At the hospital where Brantly treated patients, Nancy Writebol worked as a hygienist whose role included decontaminating those entering or leaving the Ebola treatment area. Munro said David Writebol fulfilled administrative and technical duties.
A few weeks before she was diagnosed, her son Jeremy Writebol said, a doctor visited the Monrovia hospital where she worked and praised the decontamination procedures as the best he’d seen. Jeremy Writebol said she was “really pleased by knowing that” and never thought she would be infected, despite her proximity to the virus.
David and Nancy Writebol have engaged in foreign missions for 15 years, spending five years in Ecuador and nine years in Zambia, where Munro said they worked in a home for widows and orphans.
Munro recalled speaking with the couple when the Ebola outbreak began.
“We weren’t telling them to come back; we were just willing to help them come back,” he said. “They said, ‘The work isn’t finished, and it must continue.'”
After talking with his father Sunday, the younger Writebol said it’s clear his mother “is still suffering,” but said the family remains optimistic.
Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention, also in Atlanta, say they’ve gotten some blowback for bringing Ebola cases to an American hospital. But Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director, emphasized again Sunday that there is no threat to the public in the United States.
“We know how to control it: hospital infection control and stopping it at the source in Africa,” Frieden said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
Frieden’s agency is ramping up its effort to stem Ebola’s spread. He promised “50 staff on the ground” in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone “in the next 30 days.”
Some airlines that serve those nations have suspended flights, while international groups, including the Peace Corps, have evacuated some or all representatives in the region.
But the Writebols, their pastor predicted, won’t be away from the stricken land for any longer than they have to be.
“They knew that Liberia was a tough assignment,” he said, comparing their vocation to the Bible’s stories of leper colonies.
“Followers of Christ went into those colonies, knowing they would die,” Munro said. “I certainly wouldn’t judge them if they didn’t go back, but I don’t think this will deter them.”