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West African Ebola strikes today In Senegal

Doctors Without Borders Ebola clinic in Conakry, capital of Guinea.
Doctors Without Borders Ebola clinic in Conakry, capital of Guinea.

A Conakry University student from Guinea, lost to Ebola trackers three weeks ago, admitted himself to the Fann Hospital in Dakar, Senegal, on Tuesday. The nation's Health Minister Awa Marie Coll Seck said that he was immediately quarantined and tested for the virus on hearing from the epidemiological surveillance team in Guinea. His condition is said to be stable.

Senegal closed its border with Guinea last week, so it's unclear how the student entered the country. The case is significant because Senegal has become the fifth African nation with a case or cases of the disease, which leads to death in a bit over half of its sufferers. It's also especially unnerving because Dakar is the most populous city in the country, its capital, and a major transportation hub for the entire region as well as for trans-Atlantic and European shipping trade.

So far, the hemorrhagic fever has hit Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria, with the most infections in Guinea and Sierra Leone. The borders in these countries have mostly been closed. Health precautions are also in place at entry points of Kenya, South Africa, and other nations. There have been over 3,000 reported cases of the disease, with over 1,500 deaths. Almost half the cases (40%) have occurred in the past three weeks. About 10% have been health workers.

The World Health Organization announced yesterday that the West African outbreak, already the largest ever recorded, may infect 20,000 people within the next six months, the earliest time we can expect it might be contained. A cluster of cases reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo this week appear to be unrelated to this strain of the disease.

Today, WHO cautioned countries not to panic and take draconian and medieval nationwide actions that might compromise the medical response to Ebola--measures like closing borders and entry points or banning flights. WHO tweeted that such overreactions stigmatize the affected countries and hamper transportation of supplies and personnel vital to combatting existing cases of the virus.

Coco Tang, a volunteer health worker who spent the month of July in Freetown, Sierra Leone, with West African Medical Missions, has a word for the reported 40% of Americans who fear an Ebola epidemic in this country:

In a country like the US, anyone experiencing these symptoms should hopefully have the insight and common sense to shuttle themselves to the nearest hospital and request treatment. Or, at the very least, find a method to quickly replenish their fluids. But in Sierra Leone, fatality comes in when people don’t seek such palliative care.

She tells Examiner that people get dehydrated in the African countries and can’t keep up with the fluid loss from diarrhea and vomiting. Effects of the disease that are easily treated in the developed world can be insurmountable in less developed countries. Also, the majority of the American population trust medicine, she says, and would much rather go to hospitals than stay at home and die.

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