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Ebola outbreak widens as experts fear 'shadow zones'

Published:Sunday | August 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM
The image of Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (left) appears on a banner warning people about the Ebola virus in the city of Monrovia, Liberia. - File

ABUJA (AP):

Two alarming new cases of Ebola have emerged in Nigeria, widening the circle of people sickened beyond the immediate group of caregivers who treated a dying airline passenger in one of Africa's largest cities.

The outbreak also continues to spread elsewhere in West Africa, with 142 more cases recorded, bringing the new total to 2,615 with 1,427 deaths, the World Health Organization said last Friday.

Most of the new cases are in Liberia, where the government was delivering donated rice to a slum where 50,000 people have been sealed off from the rest of the capital in an attempt to contain the outbreak.

Invisible caseload

New treatment centres in Liberia are being overwhelmed by patients that were not previously identified. One centre with 20 beds opened its doors to 70 possibly infected people, likely coming from 'shadow zones' where people fearing authorities won't let doctors enter, the United Nations health agency said.

"This phenomenon strongly suggests the existence of an invisible caseload of patients who are not being detected by the surveillance system," the agency said. This has "never before been seen in an Ebola outbreak".

The two new cases in Nigeria were infected by their spouses, both medical workers who had direct contact with Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, who flew into Nigeria from Liberia and Togo and infected 11 others before he died in July. The male and female caregivers also then died of Ebola.

Nigerian officials initially claimed the risk of exposure to others was minimal because Sawyer was whisked into isolation after arriving at the airport. However, Lagos state health commissioner Jide Idris later acknowledged that Sawyer was not immediately quarantined.

The two new cases were quarantined two days ago while being tested. They had previously been under surveillance, meaning they were contacted daily to see if they developed any symptoms, but their movements were not restricted.