The isolation unit has glass walls so that hospital workers can monitor you without exposing themselves. For blood tests and IV changes, a doctor enters through an anteroom, which is equipped with a shower, where he stores his infection-prevention gear. He wears shoe covers because at this point, you are gushing diarrhea and sweat.
Health officials would interview your family and anyone else you’ve interacted with since you began to show symptoms. Your family would be isolated, likely in a similar hospital room, until their lab tests cleared them. Because you’re infected, your family might only be able to wave at you through the glass partition and talk with you through an intercom system.
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Past strains of Ebola have killed 90 percent of those infected, but this one seems slightly less lethal, at just 55 percent. Still, you don’t like those odds. So far the doctors are giving you supportive care—water and antibiotics—but there’s no cure.
There are a few potential therapeutics for Ebola, but none that have cleared human trials yet. In fact, it would take weeks, if not months, for drug companies to develop any sort of reliable treatment.
“If we got some kind of an outbreak in the U.S., we're technically screwed,” said Michael Pollastri, an associate professor of chemistry, also at Northeastern University. “It doesn't work like the movies where you get a cure in three days. The thing is with these antibodies, you have to grow them up in living cells. People don’t just run out of the lab and say, ‘I have it right here! Give it to that guy!’”
You start to think maybe there’s hope for you in an experimental serum like ZMapp, the drug used to treat the missionaries Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who contracted Ebola while treating patients in Liberia.
The first step would be for the hospital to appeal to the FDA for permission to be allowed to use an experimental therapy under the agency’s “compassionate use” provision. The FDA says “yes” 98 percent of the time, so this isn’t your biggest hurdle, according to Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at NYU’s Langone Medical Center.
Unfortunately for you, though, neither the hospital nor the government decides who gets experimental treatments; the drug companies do. ZMapp, the antibody given to Brantly and Writebol, is made by a tiny California company called Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. It has nine employees and only a tiny amount of ZMapp. Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that Mapp is apparently sending ZMapp to West Africa, and it has now depleted its meager supply of the drug.
But let’s say there was some ZMapp left. The decision to give it to you would be the manufacturer’s.
“There's no authority to compel the company to give you anything,” Caplan said. “A company can set the terms, it can say, ‘Yep, you can have it, you just have to pay us enough money.’”