West Africa Ebola outbreak tops 700 deaths
by Clarence Roy-Macaulay, Associated Press and Krista Larson, Associated Press
July 31, 2014 03:45 PM | 1406 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In this photo taken on Saturday, July 26, 2014, Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, right, demonstrates to people how to wash their hands properly in order to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus, during Independence Day celebrations in the city of Monrovia, Liberia. Scientists from Fort Detrick say the number of Ebola cases in West Africa is much larger than official estimates indicate. Researchers from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, who have worked in Sierra Leone and Liberia, say the current outbreak reaches beyond the 1,200 confirmed, suspected or probable cases and over 600 deaths that the World Health Organization has identified in West Africa as of July 23. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
In this photo taken on Saturday, July 26, 2014, Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, right, demonstrates to people how to wash their hands properly in order to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus, during Independence Day celebrations in the city of Monrovia, Liberia. Scientists from Fort Detrick say the number of Ebola cases in West Africa is much larger than official estimates indicate. Researchers from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, who have worked in Sierra Leone and Liberia, say the current outbreak reaches beyond the 1,200 confirmed, suspected or probable cases and over 600 deaths that the World Health Organization has identified in West Africa as of July 23. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
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In this photo taken on Sunday, July 27, 2014, medical personnel work at the Doctors Without Borders facility in Kailahun, Sierra Leone where Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan died. A leading doctor who risked his own life to treat dozens of Ebola patients died Tuesday, July 29, 2014, from the disease, officials said, as a major regional airline announced it was suspending flights to the cities hardest hit by an outbreak that has killed more than 670 people. Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, who was praised as a national hero for treating the disease in Sierra Leone, was confirmed dead by health ministry officials there. He had been hospitalized in quarantine. (AP Photo/ Youssouf Bah)
In this photo taken on Sunday, July 27, 2014, medical personnel work at the Doctors Without Borders facility in Kailahun, Sierra Leone where Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan died. A leading doctor who risked his own life to treat dozens of Ebola patients died Tuesday, July 29, 2014, from the disease, officials said, as a major regional airline announced it was suspending flights to the cities hardest hit by an outbreak that has killed more than 670 people. Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, who was praised as a national hero for treating the disease in Sierra Leone, was confirmed dead by health ministry officials there. He had been hospitalized in quarantine. (AP Photo/ Youssouf Bah)
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FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — Security forces went house-to-house in Sierra Leone's capital Thursday looking for Ebola patients and others exposed to the disease as the death toll from the worst recorded outbreak in history surpassed 700 in West Africa.

U.S. health officials urged Americans not to travel to the three countries hit by the medical crisis: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Almost half of the 57 new deaths reported by the World Health Organization occurred in Liberia, where two Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly of Texas and Nancy Writebol, a North Carolina-based missionary, are also sick with Ebola.

Writebol is in stable but serious condition and is receiving an experimental treatment that doctors hope will better address her condition, according to a statement released by SIM, a Christian missions organization. Her husband, David, is close by but can only visit his wife through a window or dressed in a haz-mat suit, the statement said.

"There was only enough (of the experimental serum) for one person. Dr. Brantly asked that it be given to Nancy Writebol," said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, another aid organization that has been working in Liberia during the Ebola crisis.

Brantly, who works for the aid group, did receive a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy who had survived Ebola because of the doctor's care, Graham said in a statement.

"The young boy and his family wanted to be able to help the doctor who saved his life," he said.

Giving a survivor's blood to a patient might be aimed at seeing whether any antibodies the survivor made to the virus could help someone else fight off the infection. This approach has been tried in previous Ebola outbreaks with mixed results.

No further details were provided on the experimental treatment. There is currently no licensed drug or vaccine for Ebola, and patients can only be given supportive care to keep them hydrated. There are a handful of experimental drug and vaccine candidates for Ebola and while some have had promising results in animals including monkeys, none has been rigorously tested in humans.

The disease has continued to spread through bodily fluids as sick people remain out in the community and cared for by relatives without protective gear. People have become ill from touching sick family members and in some cases from soiled linens.

In Sierra Leone, which borders Liberia to the northwest, authorities are vowing to quarantine all those at home who have refused to go to isolation centers. Many families have kept relatives at home to pray for their survival instead of bringing them to clinics that have had a 60 percent fatality rate. Those in the throngs of death can bleed from their eyes, mouth and ears.

Rosa Crestani, Ebola emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, said it is "crucial" at this point to gain the trust of communities that have been afraid to let health workers in and to deploy more medical staff.

"The declaration of a state of emergency in Sierra Leone shows a recognition of the gravity of the situation, but we do not yet know what this will mean on the ground. What we can say is that it will be difficult to implement due to the fact that the cases are dispersed over such a large area, and that we currently do not have a clear picture of where all the hotspots are," she said.

Liberia's president on Wednesday also instituted new measures aimed at halting the spread of Ebola, including shutting down schools and ordering most public servants to stay home from work.

"It could be helpful for the government to have powers to isolate and quarantine people and it's certainly better than what's been done so far," said Dr. Heinz Feldmann, chief of virology at U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "Whether it works, we will have to wait and see."

Dr. Unni Krishnan, head of disaster preparedness and response for the aid group Plan International, said closing schools could help as they bring large numbers of children together, which can amplify infection rates.

"Door-to-door searches are not going to be easy," he said. "What will help is encouraging people to come forward when they see symptoms and seek medical help."

The U.S. Peace Corps also was evacuating hundreds of its volunteers in the affected countries. Two Peace Corps workers are under isolation outside the U.S. after having contact with a person who later died from the Ebola virus, a State Department official said.

In Moberly, Missouri, Liz Sosniecki said she got a call from her 25-year-old son, Dane, a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia. He had not been exposed to Ebola and expressed disappointment about leaving just six weeks after he arrived.

"He said, 'I'm coming home.' Sorry," she said, beginning to cry. "I'm a little emotional. It's a relief."

The last time the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued such a travel warning during a disease outbreak was in 2003 because of SARS in Asia.

Ebola now has been blamed for 729 deaths in four West African countries this year: 339 in Guinea, 233 in Sierra Leone, 156 in Liberia and one in Nigeria.

The World Health Organization is launching a $100 million response plan calling for the deployment of several hundred additional health workers to help the strained resources in deeply impoverished West Africa, where hospital and clinics are ill-equipped to cope with routine health threats let alone the outbreak of a virulent disease like Ebola.

Among the deaths announced this week was that of the chief doctor treating Ebola in Sierra Leone, who was buried Thursday. The government said Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan's death was "an irreparable loss of this son of the soil." The 39-year-old was a leading doctor on hemorrhagic fevers in a nation with very few medical resources.

The Ebola cases first emerged in Guinea back in March, and later spread across the borders to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Outbreaks of the virus in previous years had occurred in other parts of Africa.

The current outbreak is now the largest recorded in world history, and has infected three African capitals with international airports. Officials are trying to step up screening of passengers, though an American man was able to fly from Liberia to Nigeria, where authorities say he died days later from Ebola.

Experts say the risk of travelers contracting it is considered low because it requires direct contact with bodily fluids or secretions such as urine, blood, sweat or saliva. Ebola can't be spread like flu through casual contact or breathing in the same air.

Patients are contagious only once the disease has progressed to the point they show symptoms, according to the World Health Organization. The most vulnerable are health care workers and relatives who come in much closer contact with the sick.

In Liberia, authorities say 28 out of the 45 health workers who have contracted the disease so far have died.

___

Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press correspondents Maria Cheng in London, Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia, Liberia and Carla K. Johnson in Chicago contributed to this report.



Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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