Abuja/Lagos — Health authorities have pushed up surveillance on Ebola fever after a Liberian man suspected of carrying the disease died early Friday.
Patrick Sawyer, 40, a consultant to Liberia's finance ministry, collapsed on July 22 at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos on arrival for a conference in Nigeria.
He died less than 24 hours later at First Consultant Medical Hospital, Obalende, Lagos, after officials said he had been put under close monitoring by Lagos State ministry of health.
In reaction, government has placed all ports of entry--seaports, airports and land borders-- into Nigeria on red alert, said health minister Onyebuchi Chukwu on Friday.
All passengers on board the Asky Airline flight which brought Sawyer from Monrovia through Lome, believed to be the only people the deceased man came in contact with "have been traced and are being investigated," Chukwu added.
He said the man had been in quarantine since collapsing at the airport and had been rushed to hospital by port health authorities.
All health workers who kept him alive since then were in personnel protective gear--body suits used in total-barrier nursing.
"Drugs and medical consumables are presently prepositioned while we are working with all the states of the federation, especially those with ports of entry to mitigate the situation," the minister added.
Sawyer's death is the first confirmed case involving Nigeria since the outbreak was first reported in West Africa.
At least 660 people have been killed in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since the first report.
The fatality associated with the disease, which kills nine out of every 10 people infected, means even a single case is designated an outbreak, as with most haemorrhagic fevers like Ebola.
At a joint briefing Friday evening with health ministry, information minister Labaran Maku, called it a "national emergency."
In the outcome of all-day meeting between both ministries, a new presidential committee headed by the information minister has been raised to make Nigerians aware about Ebola.
"Not because it is already spreading but because we want people to behave in such a way that we can prevent the spread," said Maku.
He said authorities were pushing out information in local language jingles on radio and television across the country, and asked the media to help ensure the messages reach every home.
"There is no need for panic. What's important is that the ministry of health has done everything possible to bring this under control. But we need to be alert and ensure that every Nigerian knows what Ebola is all about, and then take personal responsibility of ensuring good personal health and hygiene rules," Maku added.
It came after reports of heightened anxiety in Lagos, following the death of Sawyer, who was a technocrat working with UNICEF on its Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project.
A nurse at the hospital where Sawyer died said on condition of anonymity that Sawyer was initially responding to treatment, but his situation deteriorated despite plans to fly him back to Liberia.
He had been rushed there when he began vomiting, said the nurse, and the hospital took measures to prevent the virus spreading.
Combined teams of federal and Lagos state government officials have been working to allay fears of possible spread of the disease in the state, since its officials announced Sawyer's discovery on Thursday.
Initial confirmation for Ebola virus disease was made at Lagos University Teaching Hospital and later confirmed at two international reference centres--the WHO reference lab in Dakar, and the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta, USA.
Ebola, caused by a virus found in wild animal hosts, spreads through direct contact with infected animal, or from human eating or handling infected animals, according to a fact sheet released by the health ministry and the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control.
Direct contact with blood or body secretions of infected people or animals is also risky, as is contact with medical equipment used by health workers.
Ebola disease takes between two and 21 days to manifest symptoms that include fever, headache, diarrhoea, vomiting, chest and stomach pain. Other symptoms may include cold, cough, joint pains, sore throat, depression and bleeding.
The fact sheet warns health workers to maintain hygiene and sanitation practice in hospitals, isolate infected patients, avoid burial rituals that include embalmment of Ebola patients' corpses. It also mandates health workers to wear special protective clothing in dealing with Ebola patients.