The catastrophic Ebola outbreak in West Africa may be spreading faster than health experts previously believed. Yesterday, officials in Nigeria said that they were looking for up to 59 people who may have been exposed to the lethal virus by flying on a plane with Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, who died soon after getting off a flight in Lagos.
On Wednesday, the health authorities there said that they have expanded their search from 59 people — to 30,000.
And those 30,000 people could be anywhere, with most of them not even realizing they have been exposed to Ebola.
UPDATE: July 31 — The World Health Organization announced today that the death toll from the Ebola outbreak now stands at 729. The WHO, according to a CBS News report, confirmed 57 more Ebola deaths, including 27 in Liberia, 20 in Guinea and nine in Sierra Leone, in addition to the single death so far in Nigeria.
The number also includes anyone who came into contact with Sawyer when he got off of his ASKY Airlines flight in the 21-million-population city of Lagos, the most populous city on the African continent and a major international trade and travel hub.
'We're actually looking at contacting over 30,000 people in this very scenario. Because any and everybody that has contacted this person is going to be treated as a suspect," Yewande Adeshina, a Nigerian health adviser, told the Voice of America News.
"This is the worst Ebola outbreak the world has ever seen," Mike Noyes of the international charity group ActionAid told Britain's Mirror newspaper. "If anyone could answer the question 'Why?'we might be able to stop it. Instead, the reach of the spider web of infection is growing."
But quarantining entire communities will require the use of Liberia's security force against the country's own population, which threatens to create an entirely new level of problems.
"This is a major public health emergency. It's fierce, deadly and many of our countrymen are dying, and we need to act to stop the spread," said Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown, in an interview with the news agency Reuters. "We are hoping there will be a level of understanding and that there will not be a need for exceptional force."
The global health group Doctors Without Borders has characterized the Ebola outbreak as "absolutely out of control," and the group's director of operations, Bart Jannsens said that the outbreak "can only get worse."