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Sierra Leone confirmed its first fatality caused by the Ebola virus on May 26. Despite authorities’ claims that the Ebola outbreak was under control, the epidemic remains a deep public health concern for the nations of West Africa. While additional patients have presented with symptoms similar to Ebola hemorrhagic fever, they are yet to be confirmed or were proven not to have been caused by the Ebola virus. In addition, on May 28, six patients suspected to be infected with the Ebola virus were forcibly removed from health clinics in Sierra Leone by their families. The reasons for this thus far is unclear.
Ebola hemorrhagic fever is an incurable disease that is caused by the Ebola virus. As indicated by the name, patients stricken with the disease develop high fevers, bleeding, dehydration associated with vomiting and diarrhea, and may experience damage to their central nervous systems. After contracting the Ebola virus, the pathogen can incubate, unbeknownst to its human host, for up to 21 days. At its worst, the Ebola virus can claim 90 percent of the patients that it infects.
The disease is naturally endemic to countries in central Africa: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Gabon, and South Sudan. The current epidemic was at first suspected to be caused by a particular strain of the Ebola virus that originates from Zaire. However experts later asserted that the evidence indicates that the West Africa outbreak is currently being caused by a brand new strain of the Ebola virus.
The West African Ebola virus outbreak was first announced on March 25, 2014. By that point, over 50 deaths from the Ebola virus had occurred in Guinea, and given the virus’s incubation time, one can infer that the first cases must have first arisen several weeks previous to the announcement. Though it is unclear how this new strain of Ebola virus first jumped into the human population, the consumption of infected bat meat is currently considered to be the best expanation. Subsequently, the epidemic spread to different rural areas of Guinea, then to the Guinean capital of Conakry, then to the neighboring nation of Liberia.
The toll of the epidemic is difficult to assess. Around 95 deaths have been confirmed as being due to the Ebola virus. In addition to that, another 114 “probable” or “suspected” Ebola-related deaths have also occurred. In April, Ebola was first reported as having crossed Guinea’s southern border into the neighboring nation of Liberia. To date, six patients in Liberia are confirmed as having succumbed to the virus.
On May 26 Sierra Leone’s Minister of Health and Sanitation, Miatta Kargbo, announced at an emergency press conference that the national had confirmed its first Ebola-caused fatality. Other cases of people dying from Ebola-like symptoms have also been reported, but to date laboratory testing has only confirmed one case.
Kargbo vehemently discouraged relatives of the deceased from attending the funerals or tending to the bodies of their loved ones. Sierra Leone’s administrators suspect that such contact with infected corpses is the reason why the virus has now spread across the border.
On May 28, six patients ill with Ebola-like condition were forcibly removed from a clinic by their relatives. The reasoning for these actions is not understood. One of the patients has since died, raising the concern that the neighborhood to which they were brought are now contaminated.
By Sarah Takushi