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Ebola spreading in Nigeria

The World Health Organization (WHO) released its latest data on the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria on Sept. 4. The total reported to that agency through Aug. 31 is 21 illnesses and seven deaths. This is a larger number than announced in recent statements by the Nigerian Health Ministry and illustrates the confused reporting throughout the region.

Warning sign seen by visitors to Nigeria
Voice of America / public domain

A Sept. 1 statement by the Nigerian Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, states that the country has seen 17 confirmed Ebola illnesses and six deaths. The minister did not discuss probable or suspected cases, and that accounts for some of the difference with the WHO report.

The current concern for the WHO and the Nigerian government is the potential for an outbreak in Port Harcourt, in the southeastern part of the nation. On Sept. 3, the WHO released a detailed statement about how Ebola found its way to the oil rich area. It is an astonishing indictment of the irresponsible behavior of a physician in the city of Port Harcourt.

A patient who had contact with Patrick Sawyer, the man who introduced Ebola into Nigeria, left quarantine in Lagos and fled to Port Harcourt for treatment. He was treated, at a hotel, by a physician. That physician contracted Ebola during that time. The WHO states:

After onset of symptoms, on 11 August, and until 13 August, the physician continued to treat patients at his private clinic, and operated on at least two. On 13 August, his symptoms worsened; he stayed at home and was hospitalized on 16 August.

Prior to hospitalization, the physician had numerous contacts with the community, as relatives and friends visited his home to celebrate the birth of a baby.

Once hospitalized, he again had numerous contacts with the community, as members of his church visited to perform a healing ritual said to involve the laying on of hands. During his 6 day period of hospitalization, he was attended by the majority of the hospital’s health care staff.

On 21 August, he was taken to an ultrasound clinic, where 2 physicians performed an abdominal scan. He died the next day.

The Ministry of Health has stated that it expects further cases of Ebola to emerge in the Port Harcourt area. Officials are monitoring over 200 contacts. The physician's wife has contracted the disease as has at least one patient in the hospital where he worked.

Ebola is spread through close contact between people, such as in a health care setting or in a family. The activities that the Port Harcourt physician engaged in, as described by the WHO, are among those with a great potential to spread the viral illness.