Ebola patients may have spread virus after fleeing quarantine

Two patients being treated for Ebola in the Congo fled a Doctors Without Borders aid center, igniting fears that dozens more may have contracted the disease.

Senior officials said on Thursday that the two people being treated were removed from the isolation ward of the facility in the city of Mbandaka by their families via motorcycles Monday, and were brought to a church with about 50 other people. Both patients died within a few hours outside of the hospital.

"The patients were in the active phase of the disease, vomiting," a doctor who was on site in Congo, Jean-Clement Cabro, said from Geneva, the Washington Post reported.

The setback in Ebola containment efforts is one example of how the local skeptical and uninformed people are frightened into reverting to religious customs, Reuters noted.

RELATED: Ebola outbreak in Congo

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Children attend a class session at the Wangata commune school during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka
A World Health Organization (WHO) worker prepares to administer a vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Congolese Health Ministry officials arrange the first batch of experimental Ebola vaccines in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A teacher leads a class at the Wangata commune school during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese child washes her hands as a preventive measure against Ebola at the Church of Christ in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Equipment and apparatus are seen inside the laboratory of the National Institute for Biomedical Research (INRB) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A World Health Organization (WHO) worker administers a vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A vendor calls for clients as she holds smoked monkey meat and a variety of bush meat at an open-air market during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Equipment and apparatus are seen inside the laboratory of the National Institute for Biomedical Research (INRB) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A child attends a class at the Wangata commune school during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese health worker checks the temperature of passengers disembarking from a Congo Airways plane in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Congolese women row their boats on the Congo River during the vaccination campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Equipment and apparatus are seen inside the laboratory of the National Institute for Biomedical Research in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
World Health Organization (WHO) workers prepare a centre for vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A World Health Organization (WHO) worker prepares to administer a vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Children attend a class at the Wangata commune school during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A general view shows equipment and apparatus inside the laboratory of the National Institute for Biomedical Research (INRB) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Patients seeking medical attention sit at the health centre in the commune of Wangata, during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
People and traffic are seen along a street in Ngaba commune of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Medical workers are seen at the health centre in the commune of Wangata during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese health worker instructs residents about washing their hands as a preventive measure against Ebola in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Children attend a class at the Wangata commune school during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A laboratory worker uses a microscope at the health centre in the commune of Wangata during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Congolese women row their boats on the Congo River during the vaccination campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Congolese Health Ministry officials carry the first batch of experimental Ebola vaccines in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese woman carries a snake for food at the shores of the Congo River during the vaccination campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese health worker records medical data of passengers at the airport in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
World Health Organization (WHO) medical supplies to combat the Ebola virus are seen packed in crates at the airport in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese man washes his hands as a preventive measure against Ebola in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Packaged Ebola-response materials wait to be transported to the Democratic Republic of Congo in this May 16, 2018 picture obtained from social media video, in Brussels, Belgium. DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS/MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERES (MSF)/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.
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"It is unfortunate but not unexpected," World Health Organization spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic, told the news service. "It is normal for people to want the loved ones to be at home during what could be the last moments of life."

A third patient who left before being discharged on Sunday night is still alive, according to the doctors.

"In all three cases, every effort was made by staff at the hospital to convince the patients — and their families — not to leave and to continue their treatment," Doctors Without Borders press officer Brienne Prusak said in a statement.

Representatives of the mission in Mbandaka stressed that the hospital is a treatment facility — not a prison — and patients cannot be forced against their will to stay. But the WHO and MSF — Medecins Sans Frontieres, another name associated with DWB — said that health workers must try to find the people who may have come into contact with the patients who fled and their contacts as well.

In what's known as "rings" of people, the officials said that they work outward from potentially infected individuals and then identify everyone they know who may also need to be vaccinated before more are infected.

Representatives of the mission in Mbandaka stressed that the hospital is a treatment facility - not a prison - and patients cannot be forced against their will to stay.

So far, a list of 628 people as been amassed, the WHO said.

As of Tuesday, there have been 58 confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola in Mbandaka, a city of over 1 million people, and 27 deaths. The WHO updates these figures as lab information from the outbreak becomes available.

Ebola is contagious through direct contact of the blood and other bodily fluids of an infected person - living or dead. This creates a difficult and tense situation for the Congolese — who practice washing their dead — and the aid workers who try to gain their trust and instruct them otherwise.

Infected people are typically isolated from their families and then only interact with hazmat suit-clad doctors — an anxiety-inducing environment that people tend to avoid and, in effect, are left untreated.

A "forced hospitalization" edict, experts said, would only worsen these relationships and heighten fears.

"Patient adherence is paramount," Prusak said. "The quicker patients are admitted, the greater their chance of survival and the greater the chance of limiting the spread of Ebola."

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