Ebola crisis in West Africa deepens, 500+ dead

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Ebola crisis in West Africa deepens, 500+ dead
A picture taken on July 24, 2014 shows staff of the Christian charity Samaritan's Purse putting on protective gear in the ELWA hospital in the Liberian capital Monrovia. An American doctor battling West Africa's Ebola epidemic has himself fallen sick with the disease in Liberia, Samaritan's Purse said on July 27. AFP PHOTO / ZOOM DOSSO (Photo credit should read ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on July 24, 2014 shows staff of the Christian charity Samaritan's Purse putting on protective gear in the ELWA hospital in the Liberian capital Monrovia. An American doctor battling West Africa's Ebola epidemic has himself fallen sick with the disease in Liberia, Samaritan's Purse said on July 27. AFP PHOTO / ZOOM DOSSO (Photo credit should read ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on July 24, 2014 shows protective gear including boots, gloves, masks and suits, drying after being used in a treatment room in the ELWA hospital in the Liberian capital Monrovia. An American doctor battling West Africa's Ebola epidemic has himself fallen sick with the disease in Liberia, Christian charity Samaritan's Purse said on July 27. AFP PHOTO / ZOOM DOSSO (Photo credit should read ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on June 28, 2014 shows members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) putting on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, where people infected with the Ebola virus are being treated. The World Health Organization has warned that Ebola could spread beyond hard-hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to neighbouring nations, but insisted that travel bans were not the answer. To date, there have been 635 cases of haemorrhagic fever in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, most confirmed as Ebola. A total of 399 people have died, 280 of them in Guinea. AFP PHOTO / CELLOU BINANI (Photo credit should read CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Health workers wearing protective suits walk in an isolation center for people infected with Ebola at Donka Hospital in Conakry on April 14, 2014. Guinea's Foreign Minister Francois Fall said on April 14 that the west African country had brought the spread of the deadly Ebola virus under control after more than 100 people have died. The outbreak is one of the most deadly, with 168 cases 'clinically compatible' with Ebola virus disease reported, including 108 deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in its latest update on April 14. CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images
Members of the Guinean Red Cross speak with a resident during an awareness campaign on the Ebola virus on April 11, 2014 in Conakry. Guinea has been hit by the most severe strain of the virus, known as Zaire Ebola, which has had a fatality rate of up to 90 percent in past outbreaks, and for which there is no vaccine, cure or even specific treatment. The World Health Organization (WHO) has described west Africa's first outbreak among humans as one of the most challenging since the virus emerged in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images
A woman prepares food at a 'maquis,' a small African restaurant, in Kobakro, outside Abidjan, which now serves various types of meat instead of bushmeat, on April 8, 2014. The Ministry of Health has asked Ivorians, 'particularly fond of porcupine and agouti,' a small rodent, to avoid consuming or handling bushmeat, as an unprecedented Ebola epidemic hit West Africa, claiming more than 90 lives. The virus can spread to animal primates and humans who handle infected meat -- a risk given the informal trade in 'bushmeat' in forested central and west Africa. Photo credit should read ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
People walk past the sign of a 'maquis,' a small African restaurant which serves bushmeat, in Kobakro, outside Abidjan, on April 8, 2014. The Ministry of Health has asked Ivorians, 'particularly fond of porupine and agouti,' a small rodent, to avoid consuming or handling the meat, as an unprecedented Ebola epidemic hit West Africa, claiming more than 90 lives. The virus can spread to animal primates and humans who handle infected meat -- a risk given the informal trade in 'bushmeat' in forested central and west Africa. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
Staff of the 'Doctors without Borders' ('Medecin sans frontieres') medical aid organisation bury the body of a person killed by viral haemorrhagic fever, at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guekedou, on April 1, 2014. The viral haemorrhagic fever epidemic raging in Guinea is caused by several viruses which have similar symptoms -- the deadliest and most feared of which is Ebola. SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images
A nurse of the 'Doctors without Borders' ('Medecin sans frontieres') medical aid organisation examines a patient in the in-take area at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guekedou, on April 1, 2014. The viral haemorrhagic fever epidemic raging in Guinea is caused by several viruses which have similar symptoms -- the deadliest and most feared of which is Ebola. SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images
Members and supporters of the Parti Democratique Senegalais (PDS, Senegal's Democratic Party) hold poster showing their leader, former Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade and his son Karim, and a placard reading 'Macky Ebola Sall' (referring to the current president and the deadly virus) as they rally in front of the party's headquarters in Dakar on April 23, 2014. Senegal's former president Abdoulaye Wade was due to return home on Wednesday after two years abroad following his election defeat, with his son facing jail for corruption. Wade, who held power from 2000 to 2012, moved to France after suffering a bitter defeat to current President Macky Sall, his former prime minister turned arch-rival, in March 2012. SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images
Health workers speak to relatives of peolpe infected with Ebola at an isolation center at Donka Hospital in Conakry on April 14, 2014. Guinea's Foreign Minister Francois Fall said on April 14 that the west African country had brought the spread of the deadly Ebola virus under control after more than 100 people have died. The outbreak is one of the most deadly, with 168 cases 'clinically compatible' with Ebola virus disease reported, including 108 deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in its latest update on April 14. CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images
Health workers walk in an isolation center for people infected with Ebola at Donka Hospital in Conakry on April 14, 2014. Guinea's Foreign Minister Francois Fall said on April 14 that the west African country had brought the spread of the deadly Ebola virus under control after more than 100 people have died. The outbreak is one of the most deadly, with 168 cases 'clinically compatible' with Ebola virus disease reported, including 108 deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in its latest update on April 14. CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images
Staff of the 'Doctors without Borders' ('Medecin sans frontieres') medical aid organisation carry the body of a person killed by viral haemorrhagic fever, at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guekedou, on April 1, 2014. The viral haemorrhagic fever epidemic raging in Guinea is caused by several viruses which have similar symptoms -- the deadliest and most feared of which is Ebola. SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images
A worker transports dirt in a wheelbarrow at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guekedou, on April 1, 2014. The viral hemmorrhagic fever epidemic raging in Guinea is caused by several viruses which have similar symptoms -- the deadliest and most feared of which is Ebola. SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images
Guinean hospital staff and staff of the 'Doctors without Borders' ('Medecin sans frontieres') medical aid organisation listen to a nurse from the aid organisation speak on April 1, 2014, in Guekedou, during a talk about viral hemorrhagic fever. The viral hemorrhagic fever epidemic raging in Guinea is caused by several viruses which have similar symptoms -- the deadliest and most feared of which is Ebola. SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images
A Senegalese hygienist demonstrates how to protect oneself against the Ebola virus on April 8, 2014 at Dakar airport, during a visit of the Senegalese health minister to check the safety measures put in place to fight against the virus' spread in western Africa. West Africa's Ebola outbreak is among the 'most challenging' ever to strike since the disease emerged four decades ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on April 8, as the suspected death toll from the virus hit 111. SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images
Senegal's health minister Awa Marie Coll Seck (2nd L) listens to Alioune Fall (R), chief doctor of Dakar airport, as she visits Dakar airport on April 8, 2014 to check the safety measures put in place to fight against the spread of the Ebola virus in western Africa. West Africa's Ebola outbreak is among the 'most challenging' ever to strike since the disease emerged four decades ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on April 8, as the suspected death toll from the virus hit 111. SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images
A view of gloves and boots used by medical staff, drying in the sun, at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guekedou, on April 1, 2014. The viral haemorrhagic fever epidemic raging in Guinea is caused by several viruses which have similar symptoms -- the deadliest and most feared of which is Ebola. SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images
A health specialist prepares filtered water at an isolation ward for patients at the Doctors Without Borders facility in Guékedou, southern Guinea. Guinea's President Alpha Conde warned of a 'health emergency' as authorities raced to contain a spiraling Ebola epidemic which has killed 78 people and prompted neighboring Senegal to close its border. SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images
Employees of the sanitary control of Conakry airport check passengers before they leave the country on April 10, 2014. International aid organisations launched a series of emergency measures across west Africa on Thursday in a bid to contain one of the worst ever outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus, which is threatening every country in the region. The tropical bug is thought to have killed more than 110 people in Guinea and Liberia since January, with suspected cases reported in Mali and Sierra Leone and aid workers warning that vital hygiene products could run out. AFP PHOTO / CELLOU BINANI (Photo credit should read CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Employees of the sanitary control of Conakry airport check passengers before they leave the country on April 10, 2014. International aid organisations launched a series of emergency measures across west Africa on Thursday in a bid to contain one of the worst ever outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus, which is threatening every country in the region. The tropical bug is thought to have killed more than 110 people in Guinea and Liberia since January, with suspected cases reported in Mali and Sierra Leone and aid workers warning that vital hygiene products could run out. AFP PHOTO / CELLOU BINANI (Photo credit should read CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Employees of the sanitary control of Conakry airport check passengers before they leave the country on April 10, 2014. International aid organisations launched a series of emergency measures across west Africa on Thursday in a bid to contain one of the worst ever outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus, which is threatening every country in the region. The tropical bug is thought to have killed more than 110 people in Guinea and Liberia since January, with suspected cases reported in Mali and Sierra Leone and aid workers warning that vital hygiene products could run out. AFP PHOTO / CELLOU BINANI (Photo credit should read CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Employees of the sanitary control of Conakry airport check passengers before they leave the country on April 10, 2014. International aid organisations launched a series of emergency measures across west Africa on Thursday in a bid to contain one of the worst ever outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus, which is threatening every country in the region. The tropical bug is thought to have killed more than 110 people in Guinea and Liberia since January, with suspected cases reported in Mali and Sierra Leone and aid workers warning that vital hygiene products could run out. AFP PHOTO / CELLOU BINANI (Photo credit should read CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the Guinean Red Cross uses a megaphone to give information concerning the Ebola virus during an awareness campaign on April 11, 2014 in Conakry. Guinea has been hit by the most severe strain of the virus, known as Zaire Ebola, which has had a fatality rate of up to 90 percent in past outbreaks, and for which there is no vaccine, cure or even specific treatment. The World Health Organization (WHO) has described west Africa's first outbreak among humans as one of the most challenging since the virus emerged in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. AFP PHOTO / CELLOU BINANI (Photo credit should read CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images)
A man reads a newspaper featuring a front page story on the death of Liberian diplomat Patrick Sawyer (pictured with his wife Decontee) who died of the Ebloa virus in Lagos on July 30, 2014. Nigeria is on alert against the possible spread of Ebola after the first confirmed death from the virus in Lagos, Africa's biggest city and the country's financial capital. The victim, who worked for the Liberian government, collapsed at Lagos international airport after arriving on a flight from Monrovia via the Togolese capital Lome, according to the Nigerian government. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned that the crisis gripping Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone would only get worse and could not rule out it spreading to other countries. AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
A pharmacist searches for drugs in a pharmacy in Lagos on July 26, 2014. Nigeria was on alert against the possible spread of Ebola on July 26, a day after the first confirmed death from the virus in Lagos, Africa's biggest city and the country's financial capital. The health ministry said Friday that a 40-year-old Liberian man died at a private hospital in Lagos from the disease, which has now killed more than 650 people in four west African countries since January. AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
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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."

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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.

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