The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is spreading fast, and panic is spreading with it. As the death toll from the outbreak that began in February now topping 90, a panicked mob attacked an Ebola victims treatment center in Guinea, the country where the outbreak in centered, accusing medical workers of spreading the lethal disease, and forcing the center to shut down.
Also Friday, the Ebola outbreak spread for the first time to Mali, a country of about 14.5 million on the northeast border of Guinea. Three Ebola victims in Mali were placed in quarantine and samples from those patients were sent to the U.S. Center For Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for testing to confirm that the victims are indeed stricken by the Ebola virus.
While the cases of Ebola in countries bordering Guinea have resulted from infected patients migrating across largely unprotected borders, or from people who have had contact with a Guinea Ebola victim, in a disturbing development Friday, Liberia reported a new Ebola case involving a person with no known Guinea connection.
“We have a case in Tapeta where a hunter who has not had any contact with anyone coming from Guinea got sick,” said a medical official in Liberia Bernice Dahn said on Thursday. “He was rushed to the hospital and died 30 minutes later. He never had any interaction with someone suspected to be a carrier of the virus and he has never gone to Guinea. This an a isolated case.”
Health authorities believe the hunter may have eaten a bat, as bats are believed to a source of the Ebola virus and are widely eaten throughout the region.
Liberia has had six Ebola deaths since the outbreak began. All except the most recent case have been linked to contact with victims in Guinea.
In the Guinea town of Macenta, about 265 miles southeast of the capital city, Conakry, a mob attacked a medical center where Ebola victims were treated, saying they believed the medical workers there are responsible for spreading the disease.
In the impoverished regions of West Africa, where health resources are in short supply, as is formal education, the local population often has little concept of how Ebola can be transmitted.
“We have evacuated all our staff and closed the treatment centre,” said Doctors Without Borders spokesperson Sam Taylor. “We have the full support of the local leaders and we’re working with the authorities to try and resolve this problem as quickly as possible so we can start treating people again.”
In addition to Guinea, Mali and Liberia, Ebola cases have also been reported in Sierra Leone, though two suspected Ebola cases in Gambia proved negative.
In the densely populated capital city of Conakry, 16 Ebola cases have been recorded but only two victims have died.