Dr. Rick Sacra says that despite his battle to survive Ebola he would be willing to return to Liberia to help that country’s devastated health system recover.
Sacra, who was infected with the virus there and flown to the United States for treatment, said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” that New Yorkers should be reassured by the way the latest U.S. case is being handled.
Dr. Craig Spencer returned to New York on Oct. 17 after treating Ebola patients in Guinea and had been checking his temperature each day. On Thursday, he called health officials to report being sick and was quickly taken to Bellevue Hospital. Spencer was reported to be in stable condition on Friday. His fiancée and two friends are under quarantine but aren’t sick.
Sacra also described his own fear and physical suffering as he fought the disease, and spoke about the recovery ahead for Nina Pham, a Dallas nurse infected while caring for the only patient to die from Ebola in the U.S.
But Sacra reiterated what health officials have been saying all along: that Ebola is not easily transmitted, particularly in its early stages. Here are excerpts from his interview:
MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell: Tell us, first of all, how you feel and what do you think Nina Pham is about to go through as she regains her strength?
Dr. Rick Sacra: Well, I feel good right now, but it did take me about three, three and a half weeks, even after leaving the hospital, before I started to have any sense of stamina or energy or strength. So just about a week, week and a half now, I've been feeling strong. So she's going to have a recovery (that) takes time, but she has bounced back remarkably quickly with the excellent care that she received. … And she is younger than I am so she might have a little quicker recovery.
Mitchell: Have you gone back to work?
Sacra: I have not yet, though I've started putting in some inquiries about when I can get some hours.
Mitchell: Dr. Spencer sort of isolated himself, he didn't go to work, but — after coming back from Guinea, he was out and about … he went bowling, he was on the subway. That has led to some criticism. Do you think it's reasonable that people should stay home for a period?
Sacra: I think the main thing to emphasize to the public is that people who are not ill, who don't have a fever, who are not clinically ill, cannot spread Ebola. That's really important for people to understand, No. 1, and No. 2, is that it's close contact with blood and body fluids. It's not casual contact. It's not sitting at a table together or eating a meal. It's close contact with blood and bodily fluids. So, you know, obviously, the health department in each state will have to make up their minds about this. The CDC is going to come out with guidelines. I'm not in a position to make decisions about that, but people need to understand that people who are not sick do not transmit this virus.
Mitchell: Do you have any concerns that doctors, health professionals, such as yourself, will be reluctant to go if there such is an outcry after someone like Dr. Spencer contracts the disease?
Sacra: Oh sure. I think we all need to remember that the big thing that's going to help America be safe against Ebola is when we get the epidemic in West Africa under control. And that's going to take volunteers and people like Dr. Spencer who care about the situation over there to go. And we need to find ways to encourage more people to go and not make the situation too burdensome for them on their return.
Mitchell: At this point, do you have antibodies in your blood and is your blood valuable as potential donor blood?
Sacra: I have expressed a willingness to donate if it's necessary. You know, the science is still out on this issue of whether the donated samples make a difference or not, but I'm always willing to do that.
"I don't think people need to worry about riding the subway."
Mitchell: And would you go back to Liberia or Guinea or another one of the countries?
Sacra: I would go back to Liberia. You know, it's my second home. I've lived there for 15 years of my life. The health system there has been crippled by this Ebola epidemic. It's my desire to take a part in supporting and helping with the recovery of that health system.
Mitchell: Could you describe for us what is it like to go through this, first of all, the fear and being put in isolation and also the pain, the physical sides of this that none of us would understand.
Sacra: You know, when I went to Liberia with — as an SIM missionary in early August, we talked about it, my family talked about it, we — I was aware of the risk. And obviously, when you get that news, that — I remember that was the longest day of my life probably. Waiting — Sept. 1 — waiting for that test result. There is some fear and anxiety there, but for me, I was also praying and trusting God, and you know, obviously concerned. The illness itself, I will say, you know, I was evacuated fairly quickly. I was in the U.S. within six days of getting sick. And I had excellent, excellent care. And I never reached the level of illness that some people do. I never had bleeding complications or other things. But it was like a really, really awful flu. You know, your whole body is weak and tired and achy. I had fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, those symptoms, but I never got to the real – worst of it that some people suffer from.
Mitchell: At this stage we have Dallas nurse Amber Vincent, who is at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, and Craig Spencer, now at Bellevue. And it does seem as though the lessons learned from Dallas have been learned well by New York.
Sacra: Yes, it seems like there has been a real ramp up of preparedness, and I was very excited to see the news yesterday in how things were handled. Seems like things have really been done well.
Mitchell: What can you say to New Yorkers who still are going to be worried about public transportation, about other potential contact with Dr. Spencer, even though he wasn't showing a temperature and wasn't symptomatic at the time he was out and about?
Sacra: Well again, of course there is fear ... but I think we need to base our behavior and our actions on the facts. This is not a virus that's easily spread through physical objects. The virus doesn't get on a countertop and stay there for a day or two and get spread to somebody, it's direct contact. I don't think people need to worry about riding the subway or being around the apartment where, you know, the building where he was living. Those kinds of contact, this is not how this virus is spread. It's spread through close direct contact with the other individual while they're sick. … And I think people can rest easy in knowing that things have been done properly.