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Molecular shark

More than 1,000 people have contracted Ebola in the worst outbreak in history

Religious belief, social mores, misinformation and a general mistrust of conventional medicine are all contributing to the spread of the deadly virus.

09 Sylvain Cherkaoui / Cosmos Sylvain Cherkaoui / Cosmos / Cosmos

THE EBOLA OUTBREAK continues to spread across west Africa with more than 1,000 cases now reported.

Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea have seen 1,093 cases reported with the overall death toll at 660.

It was also confirmed last night that the outbreak has spread to Nigeria. A man who had traveled from Liberia died in quarantine in Lagos.

According to Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Sierra Leone is now the “epicentre of the epidemic”. There, 454 cases have been seen. In the charity’s 64-bed Ebola treatment centre, just 12 of 131 patients seen since 25 June have recovered and returned home to their families.

Another charity, Goal, says that at least 206 people have died from the disease.

Staff member, Vandy Siaka, refers to the disease as the “molecular shark”.

“A group of swimmers is suddenly made aware that a shark is in their midst, and the creature is invisible,” he explains. “If you can imagine the sheer terror of that situation, then you will have some understanding of the levels of fear and hysteria that have gripped Sierra Leone since people began dying from the killer virus Ebola earlier this year.

It would be a gross understatement to say that normal life has been disrupted: normality, as we once knew it, is fast becoming a fond memory.

Religious belief, social mores, misinformation, ill-founded rumour, confusion and a general mistrust of conventional medicine are all contributing to the spread of Ebola.

According to Siaka, those with Ebola are immediately conferred with pariah status.

“It is now rare to find anyone in Kenema who will admit to having so much as a fever or a headache; and rather than refer a sick relative to a health facility, families will often allow them to die at home.

They will dump bodies on the street during the night, because to admit to handling a corpse means having to undergo testing for Ebola.

Ebola is spread through contact with the bodily fluids – blood, urine, stool, semen, saliva, sweat – of an infected person.

Diagnosis is often complicated by the fact that symptoms mirror those of malaria – common in the region – including fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Victims often suffer internal and external bleeding and most die of shock or multiple organ failure. Chances of survival increase dramatically if adequate treatment is received early on.

PastedImage-99192 Due to its high contagion rate, medical workers and those involved in cleaning and burial are required to wear head-to-toe biohazard suits.

MSF says it is now focusing efforts to stop the spread of the disease to different villages. The population in border region of the three countries is “very mobile and people continue to transmit the disease to different villages”.

The charity is also due to open a tented emergency centre in Monrovia in Liberia tomorrow, where the the situation is said to be “deteriorating rapidly”.

Médecins Sans Frontières Ireland / YouTube

Meanwhile, in Guinea, the situation has stabilised in some areas. There was also a high level of recovery in the past seven weeks.

In the capital Conakry, MSF is reducing its activities as far fewer cases are appearing.

Currently the Donka treatment centre has just one patient who is now recovering and should be able to leave the hospital by next week.

MSF is planning to hand over responsibility for the centre to the Guinean Ministry of Health by the end of July. Of the 59 confirmed Ebola patients admitted to the centre since 25 March, 63% recovered and were able to return home.

However, cured patients continue to face stigma from their communities and even some of MSF’s Guinean staff prefer not to reveal where they are working for fear of being ostracised by their families.

Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs has issued travel advice to anyone travelling through the affected region. It notes the World Health Organisation’s directive, advising against travel or trade restrictions.

More: Ireland commits a further €144K to fight worst Ebola outbreak in history

Read: DFA updates travel advice for Irish citizens, following Ebola outbreak

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