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An American nurse who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus is going under watch at the National Institutes of Health outside Washington, the NIH said Thursday.

The nurse, who is not being identified, was volunteering in Sierra Leone, currently the country hardest hit by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

The nurse will take part in a clinical study that NIH has been running to watch dangerous infectious diseases from beginning to end. NIH specialists check patients several times a day to see if there’s any evidence of infection, and would be able to see just what happens in a patient’s body as Ebola virus takes hold. They’d also provide the best possible treatments and study the effects.

“The special clinical studies unit is specifically designed to provide high-level isolation capabilities and is staffed by infectious diseases and critical care specialists,” NIH said in a statement. “The unit staff is trained in strict infection control practices optimized to prevent spread of potentially transmissible agents such as Ebola. In addition, access to the unit will be strictly controlled.”

NIH watched another potential Ebola patient who arrived in September. He turned out not to have been infected. And there’s an unidentified health worker under observation at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after a possible exposure. Emory says there is nothing to report about whether the patient is infected.

Ten people have been treated for Ebola in the United States. They include U.S. nurse Nina Pham, who was treated at NIH and released.

Ebola has infected more than 18,000 people and killed at least 6,500 of them, the World Health Organization says.


-- Maggie Fox