Deadly Ebola Virus kills a nurse; Six other cases of the disease confirmed in Lagos, Nigeria

Ebola Virus

The number of people to have died in the worst Ebola outbreak in history has risen to at least 932, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, as overworked hospital staff struggled to quell the epidemic and in many cases became its front-line victims.

Between Saturday and Monday, 45 people died of the disease in West Africa, while the number of cases in the region rose by 108, the WHO reported as it began a two-day emergency meeting in Geneva to determine whether the outbreak constitutes a public-health emergency and how to address it.

The figures didn’t include additional cases and deaths that have been attributed to Ebola since then. On Wednesday morning, a man in Saudi Arabia who was suspected to have the virus died when his heart stopped and attempts to resuscitate him failed, the Saudi Ministry of Health said.

A nurse in Nigeria also died from Ebola, while five other hospital workers have been confirmed as infected and isolated, said Onyebuchi Chukwu, that country’s health minister. Each helped treat a Liberian-American consultant, Patrick Sawyer, who got sick during his air travel between Monrovia, Liberia, and Lagos, Nigeria, Mr. Chukwu said.

Their infections showed how medical staff at the very heart of West Africa’s fight against Ebola—many of them poorly equipped, low paid and insufficiently prepared—are becoming some of its most immediate victims. In Liberia, 15% of those who have died from the virus were doctors or nurses who contracted it at work, government records show. In Sierra Leone, where the disease has killed at least 572 people, 50 of those were hospital workers, data from Sierra Leone’s government show.

As health workers die, their surviving colleagues have taken on even longer shifts, working in deteriorating conditions without overtime or hazard pay, said Michael Stulman, information officer for Catholic Relief Services.

Even with protective gear and precautionary measures, the stress of coping with so many gravely ill Ebola patients opens room for mistakes that allow the virus to spread, he said: “The doctors and nurses who are working on the front lines are working in a particularly high-risk environment. It’s possible for someone to slip up and become infected. That’s been a major challenge.”

Those stresses are spelled out clearly in the Sierra Leonean district of Kenema, where a small number of hospital staff have been swamped with 228 Ebola cases in the past three months, government records show. In July, nurses briefly struck after 14 of their colleagues contracted Ebola, 10 of them dying from the virus.

The district has run out of body bags, the government records note, adding: “Sierra Leonean Nurses, MDs and support staff desperately needed.”

In the U.S., meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration said on Wednesday it approved the emergency use of a test for the Ebola Zaire virus.

By law, the FDA can authorize the emergency use of an unapproved medical product during emergencies when there aren’t other alternatives available. Otherwise, the agency says, there are no agency-approved diagnostic tests available to detect Ebola.

The FDA said the so-called Real-time RT-PCR Assay, which was developed by the Department of Defense, will test whole blood or plasma specimens of potentially infected people who are at risk of exposure or have been exposed. The FDA said the test will be used in laboratories authorized by the Department of Defense and will be used On medical workers and responders, among other potential patients.

Spain on Wednesday sent a specially equipped Airbus medical jet to Liberia to evacuate a 75-year-old Spanish priest infected with Ebola, government health officials said.

Health ministers gathered in South Africa on Wednesday to say they were stepping up monitoring at their borders and preparing hospital isolation wards to handle potential Ebola cases in any of Southern Africa’s 15 countries.

“The region remains vigilant,” said Malawian Health Minister Jean Kalilani.

Hospitals there, as across Africa, now face the same weighty determination: deciding which feverish patients to isolate and handle as Ebola suspects, and which to treat for more-benign ailments.

Ebola’s early symptoms, like fever, aches and nausea, are easy to confuse for a range of less-deadly and -contagious afflictions.

In the Nigerian instance, delays in identifying Mr. Sawyer as having Ebola has brought fatal consequences to his caregivers.

Mr. Sawyer’s arrival on July 20 marked the first case of Ebola in Africa’s most-populous nation, though medical staff didn’t know it at the time: For two days, Mr. Sawyer told his caregivers that he had malaria, even though his sister had recently died from Ebola, Lagos officials have said. But blood tests confirmed Mr. Sawyer had contracted the virus.

That confirmation sparked a race to track down, monitor and, where necessary, isolate scores of flight attendants, passengers, airport workers and hospital staff who may have had infectious contact with Mr. Sawyer, who died on July 25.

City health officials believe those measures will prevent a further outbreak of Ebola in Africa’s largest city, a megalopolis of as many as 21 million people, at least from the current infection, and authorities are setting up tent camps in all of Nigeria’s 36 states to isolate further cases, said Mr. Chukwu, the health minister.

Still, Nigerian officials were too late to prevent the spread of Mr. Sawyer’s illness to the people who cared for him in the early hours of his arrival.

“I wish to reassure Nigerians that the government is working hard to ensure the containment of the outbreak,” the health minister said.

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2 responses to “Deadly Ebola Virus kills a nurse; Six other cases of the disease confirmed in Lagos, Nigeria”

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