Ebola has been out of the U.S. headlines as the new cases have declined, but it still remains a deadly force in West Africa with nearly 400 new cases in the past three weeks. As the number of deaths from this outbreak of the Ebola virus approach 10,000, it still remains a serious threat impacting daily lives, including that of the Sierra Leone Vice President who just put himself in quarantine after one of his bodyguards died.
While the Ebola epidemic is no longer spiraling out of control like last summer or as widespread, it is still killing people weekly. Nearly 100 new cases were confirmed last week in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, bringing the total of new Ebola infections to 397 in the last 21 days (the disease’s incubation period). During the year-long battle against this outbreak, approximately 23, 700 people have caught the virus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Of the new cases confirmed in the past week, more than half (63) were in Sierra Leone, according to the WHO. This rise in new cases breaks the trend of declining cases in the region. Many of the new clusters of cases are related to the capital’s fishing industry. The rise in new Ebola infections in the country is leading country to reinstate many of the restrictions on Saturday that were abandoned when things seemed to be spiraling down.
One reason Sierra Leone is responding quickly now is that the illness has come too close to home. One of the bodyguards of the country’s Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana’s bodyguard died early this week from Ebola.
Sierra Leone’s VP Sam-Sumana dramatically announced on Saturday that he had placed himself in a 21-day quarantine because of exposure to the bodyguard, John Koroma, who died of Ebola. He announced that he decided to be put under quarantine to lead by example, assuring that he is well and has shown no signs of contracting the virus.
Sam-Sumana also indicated that he placed his entire senior staff under observation and would make sure any of them would be tested if they showed any symptoms. The Veep is Sierra Leone’s first senior government official to be placed in a voluntary quarantine. However, government figures in neighboring Liberia, including the country’s chief medical officer and its transport minister, who were under observation at one point last year.
Another Ebola concern at present is post-mortem testing in the country and Guinea that shows that people are still dying of the disease who are either choosing not to of unable to seek medical treatment. Besides indicating that there may be more ill people than the officials are aware of, the lack of identification until after they died does not allow health officials to identify the chains of transmission and who those people may have been exposed to them.
As Ebola deaths approach the 10000 mark and Sierra Leone seems to not be as over the hurdle as previously thought (and their VP has been put in quarantine), there is progress on the medicinal front. The antibody cocktail, ZMapp, is going to be tested for its effectiveness in treating Ebola-infected patients. A randomized trial with approximately 200 volunteers with confirmed Ebola virus infections in Liberia. Previously announced vaccination tests are underway too.
By Dyanne Weiss