NEW YORK -- The top U.S. health official said Sunday the American doctor being treated for the deadly Ebola virus in Atlanta "seems to be improving," and he downplayed fears the disease could take hold in the U.S.
The patient has been identified as Kent Brantly, who became infected while working with the North Carolina-based charity Samaritan's Purse in Liberia. Mr. Brantly arrived in Atlanta on Saturday to be treated in an isolation unit at Emory University Hospital. He is expected to be followed within days by Nancy Writebol, an aid worker also infected in Liberia.
Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation" program that he was hopeful on Mr. Brantly's recovery but "can't predict the future for individual patients." He also said a widespread outbreak among Americans is unlikely because, compared to Africa, the U.S. has better infection controls in hospitals and in burial procedures.
"Could we have another person here, could we have a case or two? Not impossible," Mr. Frieden said. "We say in medicine never say never. But we know how to stop it here."
Medical care of the two U.S. citizens at Emory may take two to three weeks if all goes well, Bruce Ribner, an infectious disease specialist at Emory, said in a Friday news conference. There is no cure for Ebola. Patients get fluids, blood transfusions and antibiotics to fight off infections with the hope their immune systems can fight off Ebola's onslaught.
Mr. Frieden's statements in the U.S. come a day after the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the viral outbreak in West Africa, the worst in history, needs a serious increase in effort to be contained. The outbreak has infected at least 1,440 and killed 826 since March, the Geneva-based World Health Organization said in an update listed on its website Sunday.
"The spread of the virus can only be halted with scaled-up support and coordinated action by all parties," Panu Saaristo, the federation's emergency health coordinator, said Saturday in a statement. "We cannot continue to turn a blind eye on what is happening in western Africa."
Appeals for emergency funding have not been met, hampering response to the outbreak, said Benoit Carpentier, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies.
The Red Cross has increased requests for funding in the three countries to a total of $6.3 million. The lack of funding has led the IFRC to dip into emergency funds to deploy a team to Kenema, Sierra Leone, according to a release by the federation Saturday.
"There's definitely a lack of response," he said.
Liberia, where the two Americans were infected, is one of three African countries where the deadly virus is raging. The WHO announced a new, $100 million push to contain the outbreak Thursday.
The presidents of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea agreed at a Friday emergency meeting to isolate the border region where the three countries meet, according to an emailed statement from Sierra Leone's health ministry. Police and military will be sent to the area, it said. The leaders also pledged to give incentives to medical staff to persuade them to help fight the virus's spread.
Mr. Frieden, as part of a tour of Sunday morning talk shows, said on CBS it's possible an international visitor with Ebola could travel into the U.S. without anyone being aware.
"If they go to a hospital and that hospital doesn't recognize it's Ebola," he said, "there could be additional cases or their family members could have cases. That's all possible."
The most important thing that can be done with the outbreak is "to stop it at the source in Africa," he said. "That's going to protect them and protect us."
The two patients being returned to the U.S. from Liberia were working there at an Ebola center. Amber Brantly, Mr. Brantly's wife, said Saturday she was able to speak with him shortly after his arrival.
"He is glad to be back in the U.S.," she said in a statement posted on the Samaritan's Purse website. "I am thankful to God for his safe transport and for giving him the strength to walk into the hospital."
Ms. Writebol, the second patient expected to be treated in Atlanta, and her husband, David. were missionaries for Eustis, Fla.-based Rafiki Foundation for 14 years and left around 2012, when they took their current post with SIM.