Sierra Leone’s Chief Ebola Doctor Contracts Virus

Sierra Leone’s chief Ebola doctor contracted the virus, adding to a growing list of medical workers infected while fighting to contain the outbreak in West Africa. Ebola has killed 632 people across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone since February.

The outbreak put a strain on a string of weak health systems facing one of the world’s deadliest diseases despite massive help from the international community, reports Yahoo! News.

A statement from the president’s office Wednesday said that 39-year-old Sheik Umar Khan, a virologist credited with treating over 100 Ebola victims, contracted the disease and was transferred to a treatment ward run by medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Khan was hailed as a “national hero” by the Health Ministry for his efforts to fight against the outbreak, which killed 206 people in Sierra Leone alone. There is no cure or vaccine for the virus, which can kill up to 90 percent of those infected. The mortality rate of the current outbreak is around 60 percent.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the chief Ebola doctor caught the virus, as his colleagues told reporters Khan was always meticulous with protection, wearing special overalls, masks, gloves, and footwear. Three days ago, three nurses working in the same treatment center alongside Khan died from the disease.

Al Jazeera notes that, before he contracted the disease, Sheik Umar Khan admitted he was worried about getting Ebola. He said in an interview, “I am afraid for my life, I must say, because I cherish my life. Health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first port of call for somebody who is sickened by disease. Even with the full protective clothing you put on, you are at risk.”

World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said that about 100 health workers were infected by Ebola in the countries. Of those, 50 died. He explained, “Personal protection equipment is very hot. But there is a very strict procedure how you wear it, how you take it off, what can be re-used or not.”

The latest WHO figures released Saturday showed 19 new deaths and 67 new cases in the four days since its previous statement. The outbreak started in Guinea’s remote southeast and has since spread across the region, largely due to the region’s poorly controlled borders.

Symptoms of the Ebola virus include diarrhea, vomiting, and internal and external bleeding. A source at the ward run by Medecins Sans Frontieres told reporters that the chief Ebola doctor was alive and receiving treatment, but details of his condition are not known.

[Image via Wikimedia Commons]