Health officials in Nigeria disclosed Wednesday that a nurse, who contracted Ebola at a Lagos hospital, travelled to the eastern part of the country before falling ill, raising fears that the deadly outbreak may now spread outside of the southern city.
Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu has confirmed that the nurse had tested positive for Ebola, adding that the she had “disobeyed medical instructions,” that were given to hospital staff, by travelling to Enugu, which is a major city located in the eastern region of Nigeria. Sources have disclosed that the nurse was infected with the tropical disease while caring for Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian government employee who brought Ebola to Lagos on July 20. He died five days later while under quarantine at the First Consultants hospital in Lagos. After contracting the virus in Lagos, the nurse travelled with her husband to Enugu, where she fell six and was admitted to hospital. Medical staff in Enugu later transported her back to the special isolation unit in Lagos, where she is currently being treated.
While so far there have been no confirmations that she infected anyone in the eastern city, Information Minister Labaran Maku has disclosed that “21 persons in Enugu are being watched,” including the nurse’s husband, who has not displayed any symptoms. Nigeria has recorded 10 Ebola cases, including three deaths. While all the cases are currently in Lagos, a spread of the deadly virus across the country will place immense strain on the already weak healthcare system.
Kenya Classified as High-Risk for Spread of Ebola
Officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) have classified Kenya as a “high-risk” country for the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. To date, this is the most serious warning issued by the WHO that the deadly Ebola virus could spread to East Africa.
A statement released by the WHO’s country director for Kenya, Custodia Mandihate, indicated that the East African country was “classified in group two; at a high risk of transmission,” adding that Kenya was vulnerable as it was a major transport hub, with many flights coming from West Africa. In recent weeks, a number of measures have been set up in Kenya in a bid to prevent the deadly virus from spreading to the country. These include health checks at the main airport in the capital Nairobi. Despite receiving more than seventy flights per week from West Africa, the Kenyan government however has disclosed that they will not ban flights from the four countries that have been affected by the latest outbreak.
In the latest data released by the WHO on Wednesday, the number of people killed by Ebola in West Africa has risen to 1,069 with 1,975 suspected cases reported. Over a period of two days, there were fifty-six new deaths and 128 new cases reported in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone.
On Tuesday, a World Health Organisation (WHO) panel of medical experts ruled that it is ethical to offer untested drugs or vaccines to those people either infected or at risk due to the current Ebola outbreak. The panel however has cautioned West African officials that supplies will be limited.
WHO Approves Untested Drugs
A statement released by the WHO indicated that the panel has disclosed that any provision of experimental Ebola medicines would require “informed consent, freedom of choice, confidentiality, respect for the person, preservation of dignity and involvement of the community,” adding that the drugs should be properly tested in the best possible clinical trials. The ethics panel met last week in order to discuss whether various experimental drugs and vaccines being developed to fight Ebola may be used in the current outbreak despite not having been fully tested or licensed. The meeting was called after the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp, which is produced by US biotech company Mapp Biopharmaceuticals, was given to two American health workers who were infected with Ebola while working in Liberia.
On Wednesday, Canadian officials disclosed that between 800 and 1,000 doses of an experimental Ebola vaccine, which has so far only been tested on animals, will be donated to the WHO for use in West Africa. Canada however will keep a small portion of the vaccine for further research and in the event that an Ebola case appears in the country.
However while Canada has announced that it will send doses of the experimental vaccine to the WHO, experts are warning that it will likely take between four and six months in order to make a large enough quantity to have any real impact at preventing the illness. Officials at the WHO have disclosed that so-called “first in man” trials, which are the first tests of the drug to be carried out on humans, will likely be conducted over the next two to four months. However even if the trials of the drug prove to be successful, supplies of it will remain limited, noting “it is…likely that the number of doses available for further study and/or deployment from end 2014 onwards will remain insufficient to meet demand.”
New WHO Figures Released
New data released by the WHO on Monday indicated that the death toll in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has now passed 1,000, and that the outbreak does not appears to be slowing down. In a press release Monday, the United Nations health agency confirmed that 1,013 people have died in the outbreak with authorities recording 1,848 suspected, probable or confirmed cases of the disease. The updated WHO figures are from August 7 – 9, when 52 people died and 69 more were infected. During this period, Guinea reported six additional deaths and 11 new infections; Liberia had 29 more deaths and 45 cases while Sierra Leone saw 17 new fatalities and 13 new cases.
In total, Guinea has reported 506 cases, with 373 deaths; Liberia has 599 cases, with 323 deaths; Sierra Leone has reported 730 cases and 315 deaths while Nigeria has thirteen cases and two deaths.
As the West African region continues to struggle to contain the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, on Wednesday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a state of emergency. The move, which is set to be ratified by Liberia’s parliament on Thursday, comes a week after Sierra Leone’s government declared a state of emergency.
Speaking on national television President Sirleaf disclosed that the state of emergency would come into effect as the epidemic now represented a threat to state security, noting that Liberia required “extraordinary measures for the very survival of our state and for the protection of the lives of our people.” The Liberian President further noted, “ignorance and poverty, as well as entrenched religious and cultural practices, continue to exacerbate the spread of the disease.” A statement released by the presidency has indicated that the state of emergency is effective as of 6 August and will last for a minimum period of ninety days. While the Liberian government has not yet disclosed the full effects of this state of emergency, sources have indicated that some civil liberties may have to be suspended as the country moves to contain the outbreak.
The outbreak of the deadly haemorrhagic fever has overwhelmed healthcare systems across the affected regions while the on going fight against its spread has been largely hampered by the fact that many indigenous people living in the forested border areas that straddle Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone believe that the virus was either introduced deliberately or it is a hoax fabricated by the West and designed to subjugate them. Such beliefs have resulted in relatives discharging highly contagious patients and taking them back to their villages, where countless individuals may have come into contact with them. According to medical sources, “when patients are forcefully taken away, there comes the problem of transmission of the disease to others and this makes the issue of contact-tracing difficult.” Despite Liberian officials announcing that anyone caught hiding Ebola-infected persons would be arrested, many observers continue to indicate that the Ebola crisis in the country has gotten worse because many people are choosing to keep their sick relatives at home instead of taking them to isolation centres. In Guinea, medical experts have been attacked by angry mobs while in Sierra Leone and Liberia, traditional communities have ignored warnings not to touch the bodies of the dead during funeral rituals.
This has also prompted the deployment of troops to quarantine the worst hit areas in the remote border regions of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In Liberia, operation “White Shield” has seen the country’s army deployed to implement controls and to isolate the severely affected communities. On Wednesday, Liberia’s information ministry disclosed that soldiers were being deployed to the isolated, rural counties of Lofa, Bong, Cape Mount and Bomi. Soldiers will set up checkpoints in these areas and will implement tracing measures on those residents who are suspected of coming into contact with Ebola patients. In Sierra Leone, 800 troops, including 50 military nurses, have been deployed to guard hospitals and clinics that are treating Ebola patients.
New WHO Figures Indicate Spread of Ebola Continuing
New data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) has indicated that between 2 – 4 August, forty-five new deaths have been reported, bringing the total to 932 in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Most of the fatalities have been reported in Liberia, where 282 people have died of the virus. There have also been 1,711 cases reported. This has prompted WHO experts and officials to meet in Geneva Switzerland this week in order to discuss new measures to contain the outbreak. On Wednesday, officials at the WHO also indicated that they would convene a meeting of medical ethics specialists next week in order to decide whether to approve experimental treatment for Ebola. The decision comes as some leading infectious disease experts have been calling for experimental treatments to be offered more widely in order to treat the disease. According to sources, the two-day meeting will also decide whether it is necessary to declare a global health emergency. If such a public health emergency is declared, this could involve detailed plans to identify, isolate and treat cases as well as to impose travel restrictions on the affected areas.
Further Cases Reported in Nigeria
As the death toll continues to rise, concern has been growing over the spread of Ebola and the threat that it may extend to other countries outside of the African continent. International alarm at the spread of the disease increased late last month after a US citizen died in Nigeria after flying from Liberia. Since then, concern has been growing over the number of new cases that have been reported in Nigeria as reports have emerged that health officials did not immediately quarantine a sick airline passenger who later died of Ebola.
On Wednesday, health officials in Nigeria confirmed a second death from the Ebola virus, adding that five new cases of Ebola have been reported in Lagos, one of the country’s most populous city. Health minister Onyebuch Chukwu, confirmed, “Nigeria has now recorded 7 confirmed cases of Ebola Virus Disease (EVB),” adding that those who died include a Liberian man who brought the disease to Lagos on July 20 and a nurse who treated him. The health minister further noted that “all the Nigerians diagnosed with EVB are primary contacts” of Patrick Sawyer, who worked for Liberia’s finance ministry and who contracted the virus from his sister. Mr Sawyer was transferred to the First Consultants hospital in the upmarket Ikoyi neighbourhood of Lagos. He died on July 25.
While authorities had initially indicated that the risk of any exposure to others was minimal, as Mr Sawyer had been placed into isolation directly after arriving at the airport with symptoms of Ebola, on Tuesday Lagos state health commissioner Jide Idris revealed that the nature of his disease “was not known” the first day and that only after further investigation did officials suspect Ebola.
Tuesday’s announcement that Mr Sawyer had not been immediately quarantined further underscore concerns that West African countries are not adequately equipped in order to contain such a disease. While the Ebola virus can spread only through bodily fluids, and after the patient begins to show symptoms, the incubation period can last up to three weeks. Consequently, some of the Nigerians who treated Mr. Sawyer are only now showing signs of illness.
Possible Ebola Case Outside of African Continent
Saudi Arabia’s health ministry revealed Wednesday that a Saudi man, who was being treated for Ebola-like symptoms, has died at a hospital in Jeddah.
The 40-year-old returned from a business trip in Sierra Leone, one of four countries affected by the outbreak, on Sunday. The health ministry has indicated that the man died of cardiac arrest and that he was being tested for Ebola however the ministry has not confirmed whether the tests had concluded that he had the disease. If confirmed, this would be the first-Ebola related death to occur outside the on going outbreak in Africa, which has already killed more than 900 people this year. In April of this year, officials in Saudi Arabia announced that they would not issue visas this year to Muslim pilgrims from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The decision was made as a precaution to avoid the spread of the disease during the hajj pilgrimage, which sees massive crowds of people from around the world gather in Mecca.
As Ebola deaths in Guinea pass the 100 mark, World Health Organization (WHO) officials have indicated that the latest outbreak of the deadly virus is the “most challenging.”
On Tuesday, the United Nations World Health Organization stated that the number of people believed to have been killed by the Ebola virus in Guinea has passed 100, adding that it was “one of the most challenging Ebola outbreaks we have ever dealt with,” and noting that it could take another four months to contain the deadly virus.
Officials at the WHO have stated that there are currently 157 cases in Guinea, where 101 people have died. Twenty cases have been reported in Guinea’s capital city, Conakry. Sixty-seven of these cases have been confirmed as Ebola. Liberia has also recorded 21 cases and 10 deaths.
While southern Guinea is the epicentre of the outbreak, with the first case reported last month, porous borders amongst many West African states coupled with people frequently travelling between countries, have led to the virus spreading to Liberia. Officials however did receive some good news earlier this week when tests showed that suspected cases in Ghana and Sierra Leone were not Ebola. Two of nine suspected cases in Mali were also cleared. However Dr Keiji Fukuda of the WHO has warned that it is still too early to say whether the rate of transmission is slowing but that the outbreak is far from over. The geographical spread of the outbreak is continuing to make it particularly challenging to contain as past outbreaks involved much smaller areas.
Meanwhile on Saturday, officials in Guinea appealed for calm in the Ebola-hit southern region of the country after a group of international aid workers battling to contain an outbreak of the deadly virus were attacked by a mob. Sources have indicated that Doctors Without Borders (MSF) was forced to suspend its operations in Macenta, in south-eastern Guinea, on Friday after crowds attacked one of its centres. Officials in Conakry later indicated that the crowd had gathered as rumours circulated in the town that the virus was “imported into Guinea or that Ebola fever does not exist in our country.”
A statement issued by Guinea’s government on Saturday vowed that lawbreakers would be brought to justice and said it was “calling for calm and serenity to enable our partners to support us to eradicate this epidemic.” The statement further noted that “the government has protests against such information and reiterates that only the recognition of the existence of the disease will help fight against it.” In regards to the MSF’s work in Guinea, the statement indicated that “the contribution of MSF and all international organisations that are supporting Guinea in the fight against the pandemic is invaluable and has helped so far to contain the disease,” adding that “without these partners, the disease would not be under control today.” MSF has 52 international experts who are working alongside Guinean staff in Conakry and the provincial towns of Gueckedou and Macenta, which are located in the southern epicentre of the outbreak. The MSF’s spokesman Sam Taylor stated Saturday “”MSF’s head of mission is in Gueckedou to meet with the regional governor, senior health officials and local community leaders. We hope to restart our work as soon as possible.” Sources have indicated that MSF is planning to restart its Macenta operation as soon as possible. Treatment is continuing in Gueckedou, another town that has been badly hit by the outbreak.
The first cases of the Ebola virus have been confirmed in Liberia, after spreading from neighboring Guinea, where the deadly virus has already killed eighty-four people. Meanwhile in Mali, officials are on high alert after three suspected cases were reported near the border area with Guinea.
Fears Virus Has Spread to Mali
Officials in Mali on Thursday indicated that they had detected three suspected victims of the Ebola virus, the deadly disease that has killed 84 people in Guinea. Speaking to reporters in Bamako, Mali’s Health Minister Ousmane Kone stated that “three suspected cases of hemorrhagic fever have been detected in the country. Samples have been taken and sent abroad for analysis.” The Health Minister added that pending results from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where the samples were sent, the patients were isolated and were receiving appropriate medication. A statement issued by the government has indicated that the patients’ condition was currently improving and that the results of the tests will be made public as soon as they are known.
Ebola Outbreak Confirmed in Liberia
Seven new patients has brought the total suspected Ebola cases in Liberia to fourteen. Since reporting its first case of the hemorrhagic fever last month, six people have died, however officials in Liberia indicated Thursday that the first suspected Ebola case is now thought to be unconnected to the ongoing epidemic in neighboring Guinea, noting that the case may have originated separately within its borders.
According to Liberia’s chief medical officer Bernice Dahn, “we have a case in Tapeta where a hunter who has not had any contact with anyone coming from Guinea got sick,” adding “he was rushed to the hospital and died 30 minutes later. He never had any interaction with someone suspected to be a carrier of the virus and he has never gone to Guinea. This is an isolated case.” If confirmed, the case in the eastern town of Tapeta would mark a worrying development in the fight against Ebola, as cases so far have been attributed to people returning with the infection from neighboring Guinea, where 84 people have died. Tapeta, a small town in the eastern country of Nimba, is located 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in southern Guinea. It is also at least a five-hour drive and much further from the border than other suspected cases.
Of the six deaths, two were laboratory-confirmed Ebola cases – a woman who died in hospital in the northern county of Lofa and her sister who visited her. The sister was allowed to return home to Monrovia before being hospitalized in the nearby Firestone Hospital. Local authorities had isolated her and were monitoring her, her family and others with whom she may have had contact however Mr Dahn has since indicated that “…after being confirmed Ebola virus positive, the lady died this morning.” He added that “we are now keeping surveillance on 44 people who have been in contact with the cases reported.” The fruit bat, which is thought to be the host of the highly contagious Ebola virus, is a delicacy in the region that straddles Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with experts suspecting huntsmen to be the source of the outbreak.
The outbreak in Guinea had initially centered in the country’s remote south-eastern Forest Region of Nzerekore, where it took officials six weeks to identify the disease, effectively allowing it to spread over the borders and into the more populous regions of the country. The first symptoms experienced were of a feverish sickness and they were observed on February 9. The mysterious disease claimed at least 23 lives, out of a total of 36, before officials were able to identify it. Since then, the outbreak has continued to spread, with officials confirming last week that it had spread to the capital, Conakry, which is a sprawling city of two million.
On Sunday, Guinea’s Health Ministry indicated that the country was now dealing with 122 “suspicious cases” of viral hemorrhagic fever, including at least 80 deaths. However not all of the cases have been confirmed as the Ebola virus. Medical Charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has since stated that the Ebola outbreak in Guinea is “unprecedented,” adding that the spread of the disease across the country made it very difficult to control. Guinea is now facing a battle to contain the outbreak after cases were reported in areas that are hundreds of kilometers apart.
Over the past weekend, there has been a growing concern that the outbreak of the deadly virus may spread throughout West Africa. According to Tarik Jasarevic, spokesman for the WHO, up to 400 people are identified as potential Ebola contacts in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Fears of the virus spreading further into West Africa prompted officials in Senegal to close the country’s normally busy border with Guinea. Senegal’s Health Minister Awa Maria Coll-Seck confirmed Monday that the government had decided to close its border with Guinea after receiving confirmation that the virus had reached the country’s capital city Conakry. According to Ms Coll-Seck, Senegal has also “…closed all weekly markets, known as luma, in the south. And we’re having some discussions with religious leaders regarding big religious events.”
Officials in Sierra Leone also reported last week some suspected cases of the Ebola virus however these have not yet been confirmed.
The Ebola virus, which is one of the world’s most virulent diseases, was first discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1976. The DRC has since had eight outbreaks of the disease, with the most recent epidemic, which occurred in the DRC between May and November 2012, infecting 62 people and leaving 34 dead. Although there have been previous outbreaks amongst humans in Uganda, the Republic of Congo and Gabon, the disease had never before been detected in people in West Africa. There have also been fears that the disease could one day be used in a biological weapons attack as, according to researches, the virus multiplies quickly, overwhelming the immune system’s ability to fight the infection.
If all cases in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali and Liberia are confirmed to be Ebola, this outbreak would be the most deadly epidemic since 187 people died in Luebo, in the Congo’s Kasai Orientale province in 2007.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), to date, no treatment or vaccine is available for Ebola, which kills between 25 and 90 percent of those who fall sick, depending on the strain of the virus. The Zaire strain of Ebola, which has a 90 percent death rate, is the one that has been detected in Guinea.