Canada’s public health agency has issued a travel health notice about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that has so far claimed more than 700 lives.
But it is not following the United States in warning citizens not to travel to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — at least not yet.
Dr Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said his agency is stepping up its response to the outbreak and will send an additional 50 health experts to assist with efforts to control the outbreak.
In Sierra Leone, President Ernest Bai Koroma vowed to quarantine sick patients at home and have authorities conduct house-to-house searches for others who may have been exposed as the country struggles with families resisting treatment at isolation centres. Some have kept loved ones at home given the high death rates at clinics where Ebola patients are quarantined.
The World Health Organization is launching a $100 million response plan to combat the “unprecendented” outbreak.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan will meet in Conakry, Guinea on Friday with the presidents of affected West African nations, the United Nations health agency said in a statement.
“The scale of the Ebola outbreak, and the persistent threat it poses, requires WHO and Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to take the response to a new level and this will require increased resources, in-country medical expertise, regional preparedness and coordination,” said Chan. Clinical doctors and nurses, epidemiologists, and logisticians are urgently needed, she said.
Ebola cases first emerged in the nation of Guinea back in March, and later spread across the borders to Liberia and Sierra Leone. The outbreak is now the largest recorded in world history, and has infected three African capitals with international airports. Officials are trying to step up screening of passengers, though an American man was able to fly from Liberia to Nigeria, where authorities say he died days later from Ebola.
President Koroma's announcement late Wednesday came as neighbouring Liberia also ramped up its efforts to slow the virulent disease’s spread, shutting down schools and ordering most public servants to stay home from work.
The U.S. Peace Corps also was evacuating hundreds of its volunteers in the affected countries. Two Peace Corps workers are under isolation outside the U.S. after having contact with a person who later died of the Ebola virus, a State Department official said.
Cases and deaths from Ebola
Includes confirmed, probable and suspected
Ebola now has been blamed for 729 deaths in four West African countries this year, and has shown no signs of slowing down particularly in Liberia and Sierra Leone. On Thursday, the WHO announced 57 new deaths — 27 in Liberia, 20 in Guinea, nine in Sierra Leone and one in Nigeria.
Among the dead was the chief doctor treating Ebola in Sierra Leone, who was to be buried Thursday.
The government said Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan’s death was “an irreparable loss of this son of the soil.” The 39-year-old was a leading doctor on hemorrhagic fevers in a nation with very few medical resources.
Ebola has no vaccine and no specific treatment, with a fatality rate of about 60 per cent in this particular outbreak. But experts say the risk of travellers contracting it is considered low because it requires direct contact with bodily fluids or secretions such as urine, blood, sweat or saliva. Ebola can’t be spread like flu through casual contact or breathing in the same air.
Patients are contagious only once the disease has progressed to the point they show symptoms, according to the World Health Organization. The most vulnerable are health care workers and relatives who come in much closer contact with the sick.
In Liberia, authorities say 28 out of the 45 health workers who have contracted the disease so far have died. Two American health workers sick with the virus remain in isolation.
The World Health Organization does not recommend that any travel or trade restrictions be applied to the African countries in relation to the outbreak.
With a report from The Canadian Press
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