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Ebola outbreak shows no sign of slowing down

A health worker is sprayed with disinfectant a prevention against the Ebola virus, in Monrovia, Liberia. Associated Press/Photo by Abbas Dulleh

Ebola outbreak shows no sign of slowing down

After completing his 21-day isolation on Sunday, SIM missionary David Writebol flew to Atlanta to visit his wife, Nancy, who is being treated for Ebola at Emory University Hospital.

“We both placed our hands on opposite sides of the glass, moved with tears to look at each other again,” David Writebol said in a statement Monday. The couple prayed together over the intercom. “She is continuing to slowly gain strength, eager for the day when the barriers separating us are set aside, and we can simply hold each other,” he said.

Nancy Writebol’s colleague, Dr. Kent Brantly, also is recovering “in every way” and could be discharged soon. The pair contracted Ebola at an isolation center in Liberia. But as the missionaries continue to recover, conditions in Liberia are getting much worse.

Ebola has now killed 1,145 of the more than 2,000 people sickened in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. Liberia has recorded 413 deaths through Friday, the most of the affected countries. Two newly expanded Ebola treatment centers added dozens of beds in Monrovia on Saturday. But a quarantine center where exposed patients were being monitored remains closed after an angry mob from the city’s West Point slum attacked on Saturday evening.

Rumors are rife that Western aid workers are importing Ebola, stealing bodies, or even deliberately infecting patients. The mob, chanting “No Ebola in West Point!,” pushed through the doors at the quarantine center and forcibly removed or scared away 37 patients. Officials said looters fled into the slum carrying medical equipment and blood-stained sheets and mattresses, which may help spread Ebola in the slum where 50,000 people live.

Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown called the mob attack the country’s “greatest setback” so far. Authorities were still urgently searching for 17 of the patients Monday. Aid workers have an even harder time winning trust because of their protective gear—a full suit of hood, goggles, mask, and gown hides their faces. The doctors themselves face 14-hour work days under emotional distress, exhaustion, and dehydration, unable to take days off.

“I walked into a room with four bodies and they’d all died in the most grotesque positions, with a lot of blood and feces everywhere,” said Cokie van der Velde, a sanitation specialist for Doctors Without Borders in Guinea and Liberia. “During the night, one man had crawled to the door and the other people who died, they seemed to have fallen off their beds and were bent backwards.”

Not all stories end badly, though.

A young Guinean girl, about 6, came to Dr. Robert Fowler combative, delirious, and in late stages of bleeding. Ebola had wiped out her immediate family, so she was all alone, said Fowler, who is with the World Health Organization. But he won her trust over several days with Fanta soda and her favorite dish: cucumbers and lime. “She eventually developed this sense that this person in the suit who’s a bit scary is trying to help me,” he said. The girl was close to being discharged by the time he left Guinea.

Ebola has so far killed about half its victims, and the ongoing epidemic is disrupting travel and trade throughout the region. Several airlines have halted flights to West Africa, and the Christian health charity Mercy Ships announced Monday it has delayed a scheduled 10-month trip to Cotonou, Benin, a mere 75 miles from Lagos, Nigeria. Charity officials said the 16,500-ton ship is equipped for surgeries, not infectious diseases, and they must protect the crew.

In some good news, though, Nigeria’s 12 confirmed Ebola cases remain confined to people who treated the Liberian-American who first brought the disease to Lagos. Other Nigerians are undergoing tests, including a woman who died suspiciously this weekend in the United Arab Emirates, but no spread of the disease outside Africa has been confirmed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Andrew Branch Andrew is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.

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