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Ebola crisis in West Africa deepens, 500+ dead

By Krista Larson

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) -- Deep in the forests of southern Guinea, the first victims fell ill with high fevers. People assumed it was the perennial killer malaria and had no reason to fear touching the bodies, as is the custom in traditional funerals.

Some desperate relatives brought their loved ones to the distant capital in search of better medical care, unknowingly spreading what ultimately was discovered to be Ebola, one of the world's most deadly diseases.

Ebola, a hemorrhagic fever that can cause its victims to bleed from the ears and nose, had never before been seen in this part of West Africa where medical clinics are few and far between. The disease has turned up in at least two other countries - Liberia and Sierra Leone - and 539 deaths have been attributed to the outbreak that is now the largest on record.

The key to halting Ebola is isolating the sick, but fear and panic have sent some patients into hiding, complicating efforts to stop its spread. Ebola has reached the capitals of all three countries, and the World Health Organization reported 44 new cases including 21 deaths on Friday.

There has been "a gross misjudgment across the board in gauging the severity and scale of damage the current Ebola outbreak can unleash," the aid group Plan International warned earlier this month.

"There are no cases from outside Africa to date. The threat of it spreading though is very much there," said Dr. Unni Krishnan, head of disaster preparedness and response for the aid group.

Preachers are calling for divine intervention, and panicked residents in remote areas have on multiple occasions attacked the very health workers sent to help them. In one town in Sierra Leone, residents partially burned down a treatment center over fears that the drugs given to victims were actually causing the disease.

Activists are trying to spread awareness in the countryside where literacy is low, even through a song penned about Ebola.

"It has no cure, but it can be prevented; let us fight it together. Let's protect ourselves, our families and our nation," sings the chorus.

"Do not touch people with the signs of Ebola," sings musician and activist Juli Endee. "Don't eat bush meat. Don't play with monkey and baboons. Plums that bats have bitten or half-eaten, don't eat them."

Guinea first notified WHO about the emergence of Ebola in March and soon after cases were reported in neighboring Liberia. Two months later there were hopes that the outbreak was waning, but then people began falling ill in Sierra Leone.

Doctors Without Borders says it fears the number of patients now being treated in Sierra Leone could be "just the tip of the iceberg." Nearly 40 were reported in a single village in the country's east.

"We're under massive time pressure: The longer it takes to find and follow up with people who have come in contact with sick people, the more difficult it will be to control the outbreak," said Anja Wolz, emergency coordinator for the group, also referred to by its French name Medecins Sans Frontieres.

This Ebola virus is a new strain and did not spread to West Africa from previous outbreaks in Uganda and Congo, researchers say. Many believe it is linked to the human consumption of bats carrying the virus. Many of those who have fallen ill in the current outbreak are family members of victims and the health workers who treated them.

There is no cure and no vaccine for Ebola, and those who have survived managed to do so only by receiving rehydration and other supportive treatment. Ebola's high fatality rate means many of those brought to health clinics have been merely kept as comfortable as possible in quarantine as they await death. As a result, some families have been afraid to take sick loved ones to the clinics.

"Let this warning go out: Anyone found or reported to be holding suspected Ebola cases in homes or prayer houses can be prosecuted under the law of Liberia," President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stated recently.

Her comments came just days after Sierra Leone issued a similar warning, saying some patients had discharged themselves from the hospital and had gone into hiding.

At the airport in Guinea's capital, departing passengers must undergo temperature screening, and those with a fever are pulled aside for further evaluation. Still, the stigma of Ebola follows Guineans well outside the region.

"The police treated us like we were aliens. They said they didn't want us in their country because of the disease affecting Guinea," says Tafsir Sow, a businessman who was briefly detained at the airport in Casablanca, Morocco before continuing on to Paris. "I had tears in my eyes."

Still, WHO health officials are hopeful they will be able to get the situation under control in the next several weeks. A recent conference in the capital of Ghana brought together health authorities from across the affected areas, and the countries agreed on a common approach to fight Ebola.

"When you have it spread, of course it's moving in the wrong direction," said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO's assistant director-general for health security and environment. "You want to see the number of infections going down. So we really have to redouble our efforts. But saying that it's out of control makes it sound like there are no solutions. This is a virus for which there are very clear solutions."


Associated Press writers John Heilprin in Geneva; Boubacar Diallo in Conakry, Guinea; Clarence Roy-Macaulay in Freetown, Sierra Leone; Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia, Liberia and Francis Kokutse in Accra, Ghana contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
Jay July 14 2014 at 4:23 PM

One day one of these viruses will get out and then it will be the end for us all.

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jdunbar60 July 15 2014 at 2:18 AM

There are to many human on this earth and we're killing it. It's not gonna be long before something comes along and starts thinning out the population. Back in the day everyone had to go through some kind of quarantine or vaccine program before traveling out of their country of origin, when that stopped it was only a matter of time. Especially now that the travel time between countries is less that the incubation time of some of these diseases.

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ectullis July 14 2014 at 8:29 PM

You go Ebola

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supermolar July 14 2014 at 8:28 PM

put the sick on a plane to America-as soon as they get on American soil they can sign up for medicaid.

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1 reply
lletraw supermolar July 14 2014 at 9:06 PM

Insensitive swine

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PSYCHiATRY is a SCAM July 14 2014 at 7:45 PM

hope / pray for the future

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Hi Bob July 14 2014 at 4:51 PM

Even as the worlds worst virus it is not 100% fatal. So even if it did get out there would be survivors. I do believe that the steps being taken to prevent its spreading to the US are inadequate. At this point I believe that all persons comming into the country from Africa should be either quarantined or turned back.

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ectullis Hi Bob July 14 2014 at 8:30 PM

Starting with you know who

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billcdaly July 14 2014 at 6:30 PM

Sad to say but this crisis won't really get real press until it moves out of Africa. When that happens watch out - real bad, real fast.

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dan_crabtree July 14 2014 at 9:32 PM

The continent of africa had deported death for eons now...from yellow fever to aids to this...with many other diseases also that today contnues to kill..

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jmg62 July 15 2014 at 5:33 AM

The strain was first thought to be a weakened example as Marburg was from Ebola. If it's more virulent or more contagious in some manners - there must be containment. Each time the virus moves onto another host it "takes" something with it. As a retroneomic it constructs a powerful "machine" to reproduce itself. That's all a human is to it. Once it "learns" - as influenza did to "slow" down - and like other hemorraghics have the population it's in now - moving as it does in that area - will become more prevelant and it's impossible to destroy all the vectors while the "burning" of this virus continues. There's simply not enough resources and electron-microscopic ions have to be specially handled in testing to see the combination(s) of DNA/RNA that a particular strain has configured. The permutations - billions - are only held by the death of the animal it's infected and DISPOSED of properly. Fire with screening material must be used in all cases. Single or en mass.

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1 reply
jmg62 jmg62 July 15 2014 at 5:52 AM

If it is bush meat, - or bats, - or rodents - animals that have exchanged blood with any of the above - and the core component up to and including humans - it doesn't need to survive if it's living longer than a host such as these. Much less likely a bat being able to eat part of a fruit on the previous night it's still living. No animal previously infected with ebola thrived after 24 hours. The energy required - bat flying - monkey jumping tree to tree, et al., wouldn't be available to an animal vector infected with such a strain to several loci - until now. More movement within countries - but considerably more vibrant movement of people than in Uganda or Central Africa to Sudan where first contact was established.

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jmg62 July 15 2014 at 6:05 AM

Ya know, having to explain to a physician what the perfectly circular black pin head dots were on the eyes of a victim of Ebola - I can understand gallows humor - just not from this crowd. I'm a biologist - not a pathologist or forensic physician doing autopsies on the dead. Looking through my helmet/mask turning towards the doctor - degreed and all in infectious diseases - I explained that it wasn't just bleeding from anus or penis or ears, et al,...,but EVERYWHERE, even through the sclera. A fly landed on the man's eye and it didn't blink - and I can say conclusively without doubt - it IS difficult to puke with those helmets on. Have a laugh later and an eyeroll - we did! But we were there afterall and we never saw Obama.

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