Oluremilekun Osobu-Asubiojo, Jethro Ibileke/with Agency Report
The World Health Organization, WHO, has announced that the death toll from the Ebola outbreak now stands at 729.
The WHO, according to a CBS News report, confirmed 57 more Ebola deaths, including 27 in Liberia, 20 in Guinea and nine in Sierra Leone, in addition to the single death so far in Nigeria.
Reports said the WHO and African leaders are collaborating to raise $100 million in a desperate bid to combat the disease which is said to be spreading rapidly.
Reports also said everyone at airports visited by Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian American who died from the disease in Lagos last Friday, is believed to be at risk. The figure is put at 30,000.
The staggering figure of 30,000 possible Ebola virus carriers was arrived at because officials now say that not only the people who flew on the same plane as Sawyer could have been exposed, but anyone in any of the four airports where the 40-year-old dad of three stopped on his journey from Monrovia, Liberia, to Lagos is believed to be at risk.
The number also includes anyone who came into contact with Sawyer when he got off his ASKY Airlines flight in the 21-million-population city of Lagos, the most populous city on the African continent and a major international trade and travel hub.
“We’re actually looking at contacting over 30,000 people in this very scenario. Because any and everybody that has contacted this person is going to be treated as a suspect,” Yewande Adeshina, a Nigerian health adviser, told the Voice of America News.
“This is the worst Ebola outbreak the world has ever seen,” Mike Noyes of the international charity group ActionAid told Britain’s Mirror newspaper. “If anyone could answer the question ‘Why?’we might be able to stop it. Instead, the reach of the spider web of infection is growing.”
In Liberia, along with Guinea and Sierra Leone one of the three African countries hit hardest by the Ebola outbreak, the government announced that it will begin closing schools and possibly placing whole towns under quarantine in a desperate attempt to check the alarming spread of the virus.
But quarantining entire communities will require the use of Liberia’s security force against the country’s own population, which threatens to create an entirely new level of problems.
“This is a major public health emergency. It’s fierce, deadly and many of our countrymen are dying, and we need to act to stop the spread,” said Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown, in an interview with the news agency Reuters.
“We are hoping there will be a level of understanding and that there will not be a need for exceptional force.”
The global health group Doctors Without Borders has characterized the Ebola outbreak as “absolutely out of control,” and the group’s director of operations, Bart Jannsens said that the outbreak “can only get worse.”
In a related development, reports from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) revealed that blood and fluid specimens of suspected Ebola patients have been sent to their laboratory since the confirmed case of the late Patrick Sawyer.
The specimens which are sent from all over the country include mainly those of the late Sawyer’s contacts while he was being treated. However, as the blood and fluid samples are being sent to LUTH from doctors, Chief Medical Director, Prof. Akin Osibogun said none has tested positive except that of the late Liberian.
He confirmed that the hospital has screened at least 20 blood/fluid specimens for the deadly Ebola virus, and also admitted that more are being expected.
He however, said that the good thing is that LUTH laboratory has the capacity to carry out the tests which involves high technology.
Osibogun said, “The Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH has the capability to make the diagnosis and I am sure you must have heard that the specimens were sent to this hospital and the diagnosis was made in this hospital.We have the technology to detect the virus or its products through DNA.
“The specimens keep coming to LUTH because the Liberian patient was only one but we have received more than one specimen. None has tested positive so far. I don’t know exactly figure at this point but at one point we had well over 20 specimens that have been tested from 20 different contacts, people likely to have come in contact with the late Liberian. But it is a continuous thing. That 20 may not be a figure to work with because they keep sending specimens and facility is available to test them.”
He noted that Ebola virus diseases has an incubation period of 2 to 21 days. “Some manifest earlier, while some manifest late, but between 2 to 21 days. The use of incubation period is to quarantine the patient. If you keep a patient for one month and the virus does not manifest, the suspect might be let out of quarantine. But what is important is to watch out for signs and symptoms.”
Osibogun advised that at this point in time it is important to bear in mind how the disease is transmitted.
“It is usually contracted through any contact with any body fluid such as blood, sweat and saliva. We should wash our hands as often as possible as we can just to reduce the chances of contamination. It is going to be difficult avoiding crowded places,” he said.
He also disclosed that in a disease outbreak like Ebola it is needful to corroborate lab results with a second laboratory to ensure accuracy of result, which he said they have been doing since the case of the late Liberian.
Similarly, the Edo State Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other health partners, have carried out disease surveillance activities in all parts of the state to ensure early detection of any outbreak of the dreaded disease and the timely containment and control of same.
The State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Aihanuwa Eregie, who disclosed this in Benin on Thursday at a press briefing, said since a case of the deadly Ebola Virus has been confirmed in Nigeria, there was need for everyone to be extra vigilant to prevent the spread of the virus in Edo State because of the highly contagious nature of the disease.
She announced that there was no trace of the deadly disease in the state, just as she advised the people to remain vigilant and report any suspicious case to the nearest health facility.
The Commissioner explained that Ebola virus is a deadly infectious viral hemorrhagic disease that affects humans and is usually transmitted from infected persons to another by direct close contact through body fluids and secretion.
She said that many animals including monkeys, chimpanzees, bats, antelope, porcupines, gorillas amongst others, are known to be the hosts, adding that signs of the disease include sudden onset of fever, weakness, muscle pains, headaches and sore throat followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash and impaired kidney and liver functions.
Dr. Eregie said the disease may progress to internal and external bleeding, organ failure and consequently death, noting that the disease initially manifest like other ailments like malaria, typhoid fever, hepatitis, cholera, diarrhoea, Lassa fever and meningitis.
The Health Commissioner said the disease can be diagnosed through laboratory tests and can be prevented by avoiding contact with likely infected animals (dead or alive) and infected persons and corpses of victims, in addition to adhering to strict personal hygiene.
She stressed that any suspicious case in the community should be reported to the nearest health facility, the Local Government or state Ministry of Health immediately.
She said there is no cure and vaccines to prevent it yet and advised health workers to observe standard precautions at all times including hand washing routines and use of personal protective equipment.
Meanwhile, a hospital in the southern United States said Thursday it was preparing to receive an Ebola patient “within the next several days” for treatment in its specialized containment unit.
News of the pending transfer came just hours after American health authorities issued a warning against travel to three West African nations facing the largest outbreak of the deadly virus in history.
The hemorrhagic fever can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, though this outbreak has killed about 60 percent of those infected.
“Emory University Hospital has been informed that there are plans to transfer a patient with Ebola virus infection to its special facility containment unit within the next several days,” the institution said.
The hospital, located in Atlanta, Georgia, said it “has a specially built isolation unit set up in collaboration with” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that is “physically separate from other patient areas and has unique equipment and infrastructure that provide an extraordinary high level of clinical isolation.”
It was not immediately clear if the patient in question was one of two Americans stricken with the virus in Liberia. Both are listed in stable but grave condition.
CNN, citing an unnamed source, reported that a US-contracted medical charter flight had left Georgia to evacuate the two.
At least one would be taken to the Emory University Hospital, the broadcaster cited hospital officials as saying. The hospital did not immediately return a call from AFP.
Earlier, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said talks were under way for potential medical evacuations of US humanitarian workers who have contracted Ebola.
“The State Department and the CDC are working to facilitate options for potential medevacs for US patients, specifically American citizen humanitarian workers,” he said.
Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman for the State Department, added that “every precaution will be taken to move the patients safely and securely, to provide critical care en route, and to maintain strict isolation upon arrival in the United States.”
In its travel warning, the CDC urged “all US residents to avoid non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.”
CDC chief Tom Frieden stressed that direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who is showing symptoms such as fever, vomiting and diarrhea, are necessary to contract Ebola.
“It is important to understand how it spreads,” Frieden told reporters. “It does not spread from people who are not sick with it.”
He said the travel advisory was issued because the ongoing Ebola outbreak in these countries poses a potential risk to travelers.
“Particularly if you are traveling to the area and you happen to fall ill or be injured in a car crash and need to go to a medical facility that might have recognized or unrecognized spread of Ebola.”
Over the next month, the CDC is also sending 50 extra specialists to the affected areas in West Africa, he said. But the State Department has no plans to close its embassies in the affected countries or to reduce staffing.
“There’s been no change in our status with any of those embassies,” Harf said.
Even in the best of circumstances, the current outbreak could go on for six months or more, Frieden warned.
“It is like fighting a forest fire. If you leave behind even one burning ember, one case undetected, it could reignite the epidemic.”
A key part of the response is isolating patients who are ill, according to Frieden.
“Any hospital with an intensive care unit has the capacity to isolate patients,” he said.
“There is nothing particularly special about the isolation of an Ebola patient, other than it is really important to do it right.”