By EJ Mundell
THURSDAY, Aug. 7, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday raised the level of its response to the West African Ebola outbreak to its highest alert status.
The move, to a "level 1 activation," allows the agency to expand its role in fighting the growing public health crisis, which gained new urgency as cases of the deadly infection began to be reported in populous Nigeria.
According to NBC News, a level 1 response has typically been reserved for only the most dire and pressing emergencies, such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or the bird flu outbreak in 2009. The CDC has already committed 50 more staff people to fly to the area of the outbreak over the next month, and more could follow.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ebola has already caused the deaths of 932 people in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Also on Wednesday, WHO said that it may soon declare an international public health emergency in response to the growing Ebola outbreak.
Such a rarely used declaration would give health officials greater powers, including the use of quarantines, in affected areas, according to the New York Times. The decision on whether to declare an international public health emergency is expected Friday, the Times reported.
Meanwhile, medical ethicists will meet next week to discuss who should have access to the limited supplies of an experimental medicine for the deadly Ebola virus, WHO said.
The drug was given to and benefited Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, two American aid workers who contracted the disease in West Africa. It was the first time the drug was tried on people, NBC News reported.
The maker of the drug has said it can't produce large amounts of the experimental medicine, which means only a limited number of patients will be able to receive it. There is no certified vaccine or cure for Ebola.
"We are in an unusual situation in this outbreak," WHO official Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny said in a statement, NBC reported. "We need to ask the medical ethicists to give us guidance on what the responsible thing to do is."
And late Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement that a patient at a New York City hospital who had recently traveled to West Africa and reported symptoms similar to those of the Ebola has tested negative for the disease.
According to the Times, the patient had been kept in isolation at Mount Sinai Hospital after arriving there with chills and a fever on Monday morning.