Two cured in US, Spain, as Ebola crisis widens

Washington (AFP) - A US photojournalist has joined a Spanish nurse in being declared free of Ebola, as the United States tightened restrictions on travelers from the West African countries at the epicenter of the outbreak.

And in West Africa medical charity MSF, at the forefront of the Ebola fight, announced it had saved a 1,000th patient from the deadly virus.

The survivor stories, however, came as cases continued to soar in West Africa, where more than 4,500 people have died. The epidemic, which is proving fatal in 70 percent of cases, is already the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

Experts warn the infection rate could reach 10,000 a week by early December.

The hemorrhagic fever, for which there is no licensed vaccine or cure, has hit hardest in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, but several isolated cases among health workers in Spain and the United States raised fears of the epidemic spreading globally.

The World Health Organization said Tuesday it would probe complaints that it had been slow to wake up to the scale of Ebola, but insisted the focus now must be on battling the epidemic.

"We believe in the virtue of transparency and accountability. WHO will do that, but in the future. Now our focus is on the response," she told reporters in Geneva.

Critics have questioned why WHO only declared an international health emergency in August, eight months after the epidemic began in Guinea.

- US tightens travel restrictions -

The recovery of Ashoka Mukpo, the US freelance cameraman who fell ill in Liberia, may slightly ease concerns in the United States, but authorities are also responding to public pressure with stricter controls for travelers from affected countries.

One Liberian with Ebola arrived in Dallas, Texas and infected at least two US health workers before dying, piling pressure on President Barack Obama's government to impose a flight ban.

New measures will go into effect Wednesday that will see passengers arriving in the United States from the worst-affected three West African countries funneled into five airports with extra health checks.

There are no direct scheduled flights to the United States from the three countries at the heart of the Ebola epidemic, but travelers from the region can transfer through African and European hubs.

However, a number of US lawmakers from both parties insisted the measures did not go far enough. They sought a suspension of visas from the three hardest hit countries, and some urging a 21-day quarantine for Americans exposed to Ebola.

"Containment is the key to stopping the spread of this highly contagious and deadly disease," said a group of 16 lawmakers who have worked as doctors or nurses in a letter to Obama.

Obama has urged against Ebola "hysteria" and cited experts saying a travel ban would be counterproductive.

Travelers from affected regions would simply change their travel plans to evade screening, he said, making Ebola even harder to track.

He is due to meet with his newly named Ebola response coordinator, Ron Klain, on Wednesday.

- 'Happy to be alive' -

Mukpo, who was working for NBC News in Monrovia, Liberia when he fell ill, will go home from the hospital on Wednesday.

In a statement, the 33-year-old American said he was humbled by his recovery.

"Too many are not as fortunate and lucky as I've been. I'm very happy to be alive."

Eight people including Mukpo have or are being treated for Ebola in the United States, one of whom, a man from Liberia, has died.

Two nurses, infected while treating the Liberian man, remain hospitalized, but the National Institutes of Health said one, Nina Pham, is faring better, with her status "upgraded from fair to good."

Emory Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, which is treating the second nurse, Amber Vinson so far has not given an update on her condition.

In Spain, the nurse who was the first person to catch Ebola outside Africa has also been cured, doctors said Tuesday.

Teresa Romero, 44, was one of the nursing staff at the Carlos III hospital who treated two elderly Spanish missionaries who caught the disease in Africa and died in Madrid in August and September.

And in Liberia, Medecin Sans Frontiers (MSF-Doctors Without Borders) said 18-year-old Kollie James, was, "out of all the patients cared for in MSF’s projects in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, ... the one thousandth survivor."

James's father Alexander, who worked as a health officer for MSF, said he had lost his wife, two daughters and a brother to the killer disease.

"Of course, I am so happy to have Kollie still, but it’s hard not to think of all those who are no longer with us," he said.