Deadly Ebola virus likely to spread to more countries
Thursday, 31 July 2014 - 10:26
Hundreds dead. Many more infected. Pervasive fear and denial, challenging authorities in west Africa who are trying to assess and address the Ebola crisis.
And it’s only getting worse.
That’s what government and humanitarian officials said Wednesday, as they struggled to corral an outbreak that has crippled parts of Liberia, Sierre Leone and Guinea and stirred palpable concerns that it will spread around the region and the world.
“The matter has reached a crisis point,” Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown told CNN’s Richard Quest. “… The dire prognosis is that it will get worse before it gets better.”
The dangers are so real that some humanitarian organisations are pulling out to protect their own.
Samaritan’s Purse — an international evangelical Christian humanitarian agency — and the missionary group Serving in Mission have recalled all nonessential personnel from Liberia.
The Peace Corps announced Wednesday it is doing the same, removing its 340 volunteers from that country, as well as Sierre Leone and Guinea.
While there are no confirmed cases, a spokeswoman for the agency did say that two volunteers did come in contact with someone who ended up dying from the virus.
Those Americans haven’t shown signs of Ebola but are being isolated just in case, with the spokeswoman saying they can’t return home until they get medical clearance to do so.
The vast majority of those afflicted are Africans. They come from big cities and small villages, some of them falling ill without really knowing what hit them.
A nurse with Doctors Without Borders, Monia Sayah, told CNN, “the most challenging” aspect of trying to help people is that “we go into communities where we are not necessarily welcome” because people don’t want to believe they or their loved ones have Ebola — in part because “they understand now that the survival rate is not very high.”
Brown, the Liberian minister, characterized such an attitude — which he says is more common in rural parts of his nation — as denial.
“In urban areas,” he added, “you get the sense of increasing fear.”
To combat the disease’s spread, Liberia has closed schools, border crossings and markets, and aired public information videos.
But the information minister says his nation also needs more protective gear for those dealing with the ill, sanitation and hygiene experts to stave off disease and doctors to treat the sick.
As Brown said, “We need everything we can get.”
As of July 23, the World Health Organization had confirmed more than 800 Ebola cases. But it suspects there have been as many as 1,200 cases.
WHO has confirmed 456 deaths, and suspects there have been at least 216 more tied to the virus.
Bart Janssens, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders, said that those figures likely understate how bad things are, noting “there are many places where people are infected, but we don’t know about it.”
“This epidemic is without precedent,” said Janssens, whose group also is known as Médecins Sans Frontières. “It’s absolutely not under control, and the situation keeps worsening.”
As of now, the outbreak has been confined to west Africa. But there are rising concerns that it could spread, especially since a person may not know they have Ebola or show symptoms for two to 21 days after being infected.
Sawyer, for example, collapsed getting off a plane in Lagos, Nigeria. He very well could have made it out of the region, perhaps to the United States, before showing symptoms of Ebola; it’s only then that the virus spreads.
To further complicate matters, signs of Ebola include fever, headaches, weakness and vomiting — symptoms that also define many other ailments, from malaria to the flu that Brown notes often pop up “at this time of year.”
For all these reasons and more, Janssens says, “If the situation does not improve fairly quickly, there is a real risk for new countries to be affected.”
Ebola spreads through the transmission of bodily fluids. Those most at risk are loved ones of those infected, as well as health care workers tending to the ill.