“It’s even worse than I’d feared,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday of the Ebola outbreak rampaging through West Africa. “Every day this outbreak goes on, it increases the risk for another export to another country.
“The sooner the world comes together to help Liberia and West Africans, the safer we will all be.”
Frieden spoke to CNN’s Nima Elbagir in Monrovia, Liberia, where fear and anger over the largest Ebola outbreak on record has grown as health officials put up quarantines around some of the capital city’s poorest areas.
More than 2,600 people have been infected by Ebola in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria since the outbreak began in December, according to the World Health Organization. Nearly 1,500 have died.
Health care workers at risk
A CDC staff member was recently flown home to the United States on a private charter after spending time in close proximity with another health care worker who tested positive for Ebola in Sierra Leone.
The CDC worker is reportedly healthy and has shown no symptoms of the deadly virus. He or she is simply rotating back to the United States as previously scheduled, according to the CDC. It is CDC policy that people who have been exposed to Ebola and are traveling long distances do so on a private plane in the three weeks after exposure to lower the risk of spreading the infection.
“We think it’s the right thing to do, to bring them home,” CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said. “They want to come home. Their tour of duty was up, and we’ve made it crystal clear that if they go over there and have something like this happen and want to go home, we’re going to bring them home.”
The staff member will be monitored for 21 days — the longest known incubation period — for Ebola symptoms, but he or she currently “poses no Ebola-related risk to friends, family, co-workers, or the public,” the CDC said in a statement.
The other health care worker, who tested positive for Ebola, has been flown to Germany to recover, Skinner said.
The World Health Organization said Monday that 120 health care workers have died in the Ebola outbreak, and twice that number have been infected.
Public health experts say several factors are to blame, including a shortage of protective gear and improper use of the gear they do have.
The fact that the disease has killed so many people working to care for infected patients is making it increasingly hard to combat the virus in West Africa, WHO said.
“It depletes one of the most vital assets during the control of any outbreak. WHO estimates that in the three hardest-hit countries, only one to two doctors are available to treat 100,000 people, and these doctors are heavily concentrated in urban areas.”
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health for the Democratic Republic of Congo notified WHO of another possible Ebola outbreak.
Health officials say a woman in the Central African country became ill with symptoms of Ebola after butchering a bush animal that had been given to her by her husband. She died on August 11. Since then health care workers, relatives and other individuals who came in contact with her body have developed symptoms and died.
Between July 28 and August 18, a total of 24 suspected cases of an unidentified hemorrhagic fever, including 13 deaths, have been identified, WHO said.
Samples have been sent to laboratories to confirm that these illnesses are being caused by the Ebola virus and to identify the strain. As none of the people involved has been to the four countries affected by the other Ebola epidemic, health officials believe this to be a separate outbreak.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has seen six smaller Ebola outbreaks since the 1970s, according to the CDC.