Thomas Eric Duncan died of Ebola on Wednesday, a week after the virus was detected in his body. But what caused Duncan, a 42-year-old Liberian national, to succumb to the deadly virus when others in America have survived it?
It’s likely because Duncan, as a civilian and not a health care worker, was highly exposed to the virus in his home country, according to Dr. Bruce Polsky, an infectious disease specialist at Mt. Sinai Hospital.
“As with any infection, the severity of the Ebola infection depends on several things, and very importantly it depends on the amount of Ebola the individual is exposed to,” said Polsky.
“We have no way of knowing how much he was exposed to, but we can presume it was likely more than the health care workers who were wearing some form of personal protective equipment.”
Aid workers Dr. Kent Brantly, Nancy Writebol and Dr. Rick Sacra all were discharged from hospitals after scary bouts with the disease, which has killed approximately 3,500 people across West Africa.
Brantly and Sacra were given blood transfusions from Ebola survivors, and those may have helped them recover — survivors’ blood contains powerful antibodies that work to render the virus noninfectious. But “it’s impossible” to know such transfusions’ capabilities yet, Polksy said, and therefore it’s unknown if Duncan died because he didn’t receive one.
“It’s completely undocumented as to what the effect of a blood transfusion from a survivor of the disease will do to someone in the midst of Ebola,” he added.