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Oct. 16: The latest developments on Ebola

A look at some of the day’s Ebola developments from around the world:

UN: Ebola death toll rising to 4,500 this week

The death toll from Ebola will rise this week to more than 4,500 people from the 9,000 infected and the outbreak is still out of control in three West African nations, a top official with the U.N. health agency said Thursday.

Dr. Isabelle Nuttall, director of the World Health Organization’s global capacities, alert and response, said new numbers show the outbreak is still hitting health workers hard despite precautions – with 427 medical workers infected and 236 dead – mainly because Ebola victims are most contagious around the time they die.

Nuttall said the focus of the world’s efforts should remain on the countries where the outbreak has been spreading out of control: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

“Our data shows that cases are doubling every four weeks. The disease is still widespread in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and there is persistent transmission of the virus,” she told a news conference in Geneva.

Fear of flying on Wall Street

Airline investors worried that the scare over the virus could cause travelers to avoid flying.

Shares of the biggest U.S. airlines tumbled between 5 and 8 percent before recovering in afternoon trading Wednesday.

Concern over spread of Ebola puts spotlight on CDC

Here are a few key things to know about the CDC:

WHAT EXACTLY IS THE CDC? Based in Atlanta, the CDC is a leading agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Thomas Frieden, 53, is the agency’s 16th leader and has been director since 2009. The agency has more than 15,000 employees, with staff in every state and more than 50 countries.

WHAT DOES IT DO? The CDC may be best known for tracking and preventing diseases, including common germs like the flu, vaccine-preventable illnesses such as measles and whooping cough, and food poisoning outbreaks. Its disease-prevention work includes keeping Americans safe from health threats abroad. To help fight the Ebola outbreak in Africa, the agency has set up training courses for doctors, nurses and other health workers heading to West Africa to treat patients there. Its other missions include researching health problems, promoting health and wellness, and keeping tabs on birth and death rates, life expectancy and other statistics.

WHAT ARE ITS CENTERS? The CDC’s title refers to centers within the agency with a specific focus, including infectious diseases, chronic diseases, environmental health, injury prevention and birth defects.

US monitors health care worker aboard cruise ship

Obama administration officials say a Dallas health care worker who handled a lab specimen from the dead Ebola patient is on a Caribbean cruise ship where she has self-quarantined and is is being monitored for any signs of infection.

The officials say the woman has shown no signs of the disease and has been asymptomatic for 17 days.

The government is working to return the woman and her husband to the U.S. before the ship completes its cruise. The officials say the State Department is working with a country they won’t identify to secure their transportation home.

The officials were not authorized to be named and requested anonymity.

University knocks down tweet that Ebola airborne

University of Minnesota officials are knocking down a tweet claiming its researchers say Ebola is airborne.

University spokeswoman Caroline Marin told the Star Tribune in Minneapolis that the university never made such a claim.

In fact, the tweet refers to a commentary posted a month ago on a university website that was written by Chicago-based researchers who were debating Ebola’s “potential to be transmitted” to health workers by aerosolized virus particles, and thus what protective gear they should wear.

World health authorities have been clear that Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, and that blood, vomit and feces carry the most virus. Health workers are at particular risk because in the course of caring for patients, they draw blood and clean up diarrhea when the patients are most infectious. Likewise in the epidemic zone in West Africa, people involved with burials of highly infectious bodies are at high risk.

What if a sick person’s wet sneeze hits your hand and then you absentmindedly rub your eyes? Asked about such scenarios recently, Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allowed that, theoretically, “it would not be impossible” to catch the virus that way. But it’s considered highly unlikely. No such case has been documented.

“Should you be worried you might have gotten it by sitting next to someone?” he said Wednesday. “The answer to that is no.”

Spain tests 4 with fever for Ebola, isolates jet

Four people with fever considered at risk for Ebola were being tested Thursday in Spain for the virus, including one who arrived on an Air France jet that was isolated at Madrid’s airport as a precaution, officials said.

Other passengers were allowed to disembark. But a passenger with a fever who had traveled from Nigeria was taken by ambulance with a driver wearing protective gear to Madrid’s Carlos III hospital.

Another person with a fever who came into contact with infected Spanish nursing assistant Teresa Romero before she was hospitalized on Oct. 6 was also sent to the same hospital, the Health Ministry said. Romero’s condition, meanwhile, appeared to be improving, a ministry official said.

A missionary was transported to the hospital because he came down with a fever after returning to Spain from Liberia, where he treated Ebola patients, Spain’s government said.

Stepped up Ebola screening starts at 4 US airports

Customs and health officials at airports in Washington, Chicago, Atlanta and Newark, New Jersey, are scheduled to start taking the temperatures of passengers from three West African countries as part of a stepped up Ebola screening program.

Federal health officials say the entry screenings that start Thursday add another layer of protection to halt the spread of the Ebola virus that has killed thousands. Screeners will use no-touch thermometers to try to find passengers with fevers.

The screenings started at New York’s Kennedy International Airport on Saturday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that screenings will start Thursday at Washington Dulles, Chicago O'Hare, Newark’s Liberty and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta.

Customs officials say about 150 people travel daily from or through Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea to the United States. Nearly 95 percent of them land first at one of those five airports.

Texas and Ohio schools closed as Ebola precaution

Officials at a school district in Central Texas shut three schools Thursday after they learned that two students traveled on the Cleveland-to-Dallas flight with Amber Joy Vinson, a nurse infected with Ebola.

The superintendent of the Belton Independent School District, south of Waco, said that a student at Sparta Elementary School and a student at North Belton Middle School were on Frontier Airlines Flight 1143 on Monday.

The superintendent, Susan Kincannon, said in a statement that officials decided to shut the two schools plus a third, the Belton Early Childhood School, so they could thoroughly clean and disinfect the schools and buses that served them this week.

The two students were on the flight Monday and then attended classes Tuesday and Wednesday, the statement said. Though state and local health officials had cleared the children to return to school, their parents decided to keep them home for 21 days, the maximum incubation period of the virus.

“The health and safety of our students is my first priority,” Kincannon said in the statement.

Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad impose Ebola travel bans

Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago on Thursday became the latest countries in the Western Hemisphere to restrict travelers from West African nations struggling with an epidemic of the Ebola virus.

The announcements came a day after Colombia and St. Lucia ordered similar prohibitions.

Authorities in Jamaica imposed an immediate entry ban on anyone who has been in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone within four weeks.

The ban was announced shortly after a U.S. couple was quarantined at Sangster International Airport in the northern tourist town of Montego Bay. Airport screeners found one of the Americans had been in Liberia two weeks ago. Officials said the couple was kept in quarantine, found to be healthy, and then sent back to an unspecified city in the U.S.

Guyana’s government said that country’s diplomatic missions had been directed not to issue visas to people from West African nations affected by the virus.

Trinidad & Tobago said it would deny entry any resident of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo or Sierra Leone. Other travelers who have visited any of those nations within six weeks will be quarantined for 21 days upon their arrival.

UN chief: Fund to fight Ebola has $100,000 in bank

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that a trust fund he launched to raise $1 billion to provide fast and flexible funding for the fight against Ebola has only $100,000 in the bank.

Ban appealed urgently to the international community to provide the money which he said will enable the United Nations “to get ahead of the curve and meet our target of reducing the rate of transmission by Dec. 1.”

The secretary-general said the U.N. fund has received about $20 million, but almost all of it has already been spent.

The World Health Organization said Thursday that the Ebola death toll will reach more than 4,500 this week, from among 9,000 people infected by the deadly disease mainly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. It has projected that there could be between 5,000 and 10,000 new cases a week in early December without urgent action.

“Ebola is a huge and urgent global problem that demands a huge and urgent global response,” Ban said.

He said dozens of countries “are showing their solidarity,” singling out the U.S., Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Poland, Japan, South Korea, Cuba and China. But he said it’s time that countries that have “the capacity” – which he didn’t identify – provide support.

Australia readies for possible Ebola outbreak

Australia’s prime minister is resisting pressure to send doctors and nurses to West Africa to fight the Ebola crisis, saying his government is focused on preparing for a potential outbreak of the deadly disease in the Asia-Pacific region.

A petition by 113 Australian health professors sent to Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday calls on him to send a medical team as well as troops to battle the disease that has killed almost 4,500 people in West Africa this year.

Senior opposition lawmakers backed the call in letter to key government ministers on Thursday.

Abbott said Thursday that while the government had given 18 million Australian dollars (US $16 million) toward the international response, his government is focused on being prepared for an outbreak in Australia and the wider region.

Symptom-free isn’t good enough for journalism workshop

New York’s Syracuse University “uninvited” Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Michel du Cille, of The Washington Post, to the school’s fall journalism workshop since du Cille returned from covering the Ebola crisis in Liberia.

Du Cille said he returned 21 days ago and is symptom free.

Lorraine Branham, dean of the university’s school of public communications, said Syracuse consulted with university and county health officials and decided to be cautious. “I erred in favor of students’ safety,” she said.

Branham said she has invited du Cille to visit the campus in a few weeks to share “the terrific work he did in Liberia” and discuss his concerns over being excluded from the workshop.

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