Ebola Virus 'Red Alert': Global Outbreak Feared After Infected American Flies On Two Planes

Jonathan Vankin

The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa that is now the worst in recorded history almost came to America, carried by 40-year-old Patrick Sawyer who was supposed to come home to Minnesota in August but instead died Friday in Lagos, Nigeria, after flying on two commercial aircraft while infected with the virus.

International health officials are now racing against time to find everyone else on those ASKY Airlines flights that started in Monrovia, Liberia, before a change of planes in Togo, ending when Sawyer reached his final destination in the international transport hub of Lagos — where he died.

On board at least one of the flights, Sawyer experienced uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea, meaning that other passengers could have easily come in contact with the Ebola virus, which is transmitted through contact with the bodily secretions of an infected victim, alive or dead.

Even small droplets of such fluids, including vomit or fecal matter, can transmit the Ebola virus.

"It's a global problem because Patrick could've easily come home with Ebola," said Sawyer's distraught wife Decontee on a Minnesota TV station. "Easy. Easy. It's close, it's at our front door. It knocked down my front door."

There were 59 other people on the flight when Sawyer experienced his terrible symptoms. But Lagos is a metropolitan area of 21 million with a major international airport. Some of those 50 passengers could be somewhere in the sprawling city, while others may have taken flights to other countries.

Officials said that 20 of those 59 have been found and tested. But the other 39 could be anywhere and must be located as soon as possible. The Ebola virus takes about 21 days to incubate in the human body before a victim starts to show the deadly symptoms of Ebola hemmorhagic fever.

Travel officials and doctors in the U.K. have already been alerted to report anyone showing possible symptoms of the Ebola disease.

Since Sawyer died in Nigeria Friday, that country has been in a state of "red alert" in its airports and seaports and along the borders, with health officials looking for possible victims of the disease.

Sawyer and his wife, who have two daughters, are both American citizens who were born in Liberia. Sawyer was consultant to the Liberian government.

More than 1,200 Ebola cases in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have been confirmed since the start of the outbreak in February, and in that time 672 victims in those three countries have died.