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Thursday 21 August 2014

Concern grows for 1,500 people as deadly Ebola virus still rages

Published 04/07/2014 | 02:30

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Health workers carry the body of an Ebola virus victim in Kenema, Sierra Leone, June 25, 2014. The Ebola outbreak has killed 467 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since February, making it the largest and deadliest ever, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  West African states lack the resources to battle the world's worst outbreak of Ebola and deep cultural suspicions about the disease remain a big obstacle to halting its spread, ministers said on Wednesday.  Picture taken June 25, 2014. REUTERS/Umaru Fofana (SIERRA LEONE - Tags: HEALTH SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Health workers carry the body of an Ebola virus victim in Kenema, Sierra Leone, June 25, 2014. The Ebola outbreak has killed 467 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since February, making it the largest and deadliest ever, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). West African states lack the resources to battle the world's worst outbreak of Ebola and deep cultural suspicions about the disease remain a big obstacle to halting its spread, ministers said on Wednesday. Picture taken June 25, 2014. REUTERS/Umaru Fofana (SIERRA LEONE - Tags: HEALTH SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

HUNDREDS of West Africans could be carrying the deadly Ebola virus and not know it, potentially infecting hundreds more, as cash-strapped governments and overwhelmed aid agencies struggle to contain the virus's spread.

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At least 1,500 people have not yet been traced who are known to have come into contact with others confirmed or suspected to be infected with the haemorrhagic fever, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said.

Many more could be moving freely in the three countries battling the virus, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but fear of the illness and mistrust of Western medicine means they refuse to come forward to speak to doctors.

The current outbreak is the worst ever. So far 467 people have died and health staff have identified at least 292 other suspected or confirmed cases.

Ebola is transmitted by coming into contact with bodily fluids of an infected person.

It has no cure and as many as 90pc of its victims die.

Health authorities in Glasgow and organisers of the Commonwealth Games, which start in the city on July 23, said they were “monitoring the situation on a daily basis” because a team from Sierra Leone was coming to compete. “Based on current advice from the World Health Organisation, we estimate the risk to the delegates from Sierra Leone is extremely low,” the statement said.

The outbreak was now “out of control” in the three affected countries and could quickly spread across West Africa, according to MSF, which is leading efforts to deal with cases.

The virus's spread appeared to have been cut off in late April, when 74 people had died and Alpha Conde, Guinea's president, said the situation was “well in hand” and “touch wood there won't be any new cases”.

Mistrust

But a rare mix of highly mobile populations, mistrust of outsiders, a fear of being diagnosed and treated, traditional burial practices, and a lack of funding all mean Ebola flared again.

The number of cases jumped by 129, or 38pc, in the week from June 25 to July 2, the WHO said.

Health staff have even been attacked. The Red Cross in Guinea said it had been forced to temporarily suspend some operations in the country's southeast after staff working on Ebola were threatened.

“Locals wielding knives surrounded a marked Red Cross vehicle,” a Red Cross official said, asking not to be named.

An MSF centre elsewhere in Guinea was attacked in April by youths. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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