25 March 2014

Liberia: Govt Confirms Five Suspected Ebola Deaths in Liberia

Photo: Boakai M. Fofana/AllAfrica
A sign at the fruit section of a grocery store urging customers to wear gloves, as Liberians worry about the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

The Liberian Government through the Ministry of Health has confirmed the death of five persons suspected to have contracted the deadly Ebola hemorrhagic fever in Lofa County.

Making the disclosure at a special press briefing at the Ministry of Information on Monday, Liberia's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bernice Dahn, said all of the five suspected cases were people who came from Guinea for treatment at hospitals in Foya and Zorzor Districts in Lofa County.

According to the Liberia News Agency (LINA), Dr. Dahn said four of the dead are female adults, while the fifth casualty was a male child.

Meanwhile, the Liberia's Chief Medical Officer stated that the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and its partners have dispatched an assessment team to Lofa County, to investigate the situation by tracing contacts, collecting blood samples and sensitizing local health authorities about the disease.

She said the assessment team also took with them protective equipment such as face masks, gloves and goggles to protect health workers in affected facilities.

She told the press conference that the team also took with them chlorine to disinfect the affected hospitals, as surveillance along the border is being strengthened.

The current outbreak of the deadly hemorrhagic Ebola Disease, according to Dr. Dahn, said the disease started in the Guinean towns of Guekedou, Nzerekore, Kissidougou and Macenta which are very close to the Liberian border.

The Chief Medical Officer then called on Liberians to avoid direct contact with body fluids of infected or dead people as well as physical contacts such as kissing and handshakes.

She also advised Liberians in the affected areas to wash their hands frequently, avoid direct contacts or consumption of animals such as fruit bats and monkeys, and to always chlorinate their drinking water in order to prevent this deadly disease.

According to Dr. Dahn, sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, as well as internal and external bleeding are all symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus and as such, persons suspected to be suffering from Ebola should be taken to the nearest health center immediately.

In a related development, tests on the suspected cases of deadly Ebola virus in Guinea's capital Conakry are negative, health officials say.

On Sunday, United Nations officials said that the virus had spread to the capital, a port city of up to two million, from remote forests in the south, where some 61 people have died.

The government has sent out text messages, urging people to stay calm and wash their hands with soap.

Ebola is spread by close contact and kills between 25% and 90% of victims.

There is no known cure or vaccine.

Symptoms include: internal and external bleeding, diarrhoea and vomiting.

Neighboring countries such as Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone are said to be on high alert in case the disease spreads.

Five people are already reported to have died in Liberia after crossing from southern Guinea for treatment, Liberia's Health Minister Walter Gwenigale told journalists.

However, it is not clear whether they had Ebola.

The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Liberia says the country's health facilities are closer and more accessible to Guineans living on the border than those in big Guinean cities.

Cross-border trade is huge between the two countries, which share some cultural and linguistic ties, he adds. Mr. Gwenigale confirmed tests were being carried out on those who had died. He also urged people to avoid close contact with people, such as shaking hands and kissing.

Guinea is also currently grappling with epidemics of measles, cholera and meningitis. It is said to be the first time Ebola has struck Guinea, with recent outbreaks thousands of miles away, in Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

There have been 87 cases so far, with 61 deaths, according to Guinea's health ministry.

After two people died from a haemorrhagic fever in Conakry, samples were sent to the Pasteur Institute in neighboring Senegal for testing.

WHO spokesman Collins Boakye-Agyemang told the BBC these had shown that the victims had not been infected with Ebola. It is not known what killed them.

Outbreaks of Ebola occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests, the World Health Organization says.

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