Fears rise Ebola is taking hold in Nigeria after second death in Lagos

Second death in Nigerian city deepens concern disease could spread in Africa's biggest country

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2014, 8:18pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 August, 2014, 4:47am

The death toll of the Ebola epidemic neared 1,000 yesterday as fears rose that the disease is now taking hold in Africa's most populous nation of Nigeria after a second death among seven confirmed cases in Lagos.

The spread of the disease comes as the World Health Organisation met in an emergency session to decide whether to declare an international crisis.

The latest official toll across West Africa hit 932 deaths since the start of the year, WHO said yesterday, with 1,711 confirmed cases, mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The death of a nurse in Lagos, a huge city of more than 20 million people, came as 45 deaths were confirmed across West Africa between Saturday and Monday, with aid agencies, including Doctors Without Borders, saying the terrifying tropical disease is out of control.

In Liberia's capital, Monrovia, where the dead have been left unburied on the streets or abandoned in their homes, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appealed for divine intervention and ordered three days of fasting and prayer.

And in Sierra Leone, which has the most confirmed infection cases, troops were sent to guard hospitals to "deter relatives and friends of Ebola patients from forcefully taking them from hospitals without medical consent", a presidential aide said.

As British Airways halted flights to Liberia and Sierra Leona, a Spanish military plane left for Liberia on to bring an infected Spanish missionary priest home for treatment.

And in Saudi Arabia, a man who had travelled to Sierra Leone and had Ebola-like symptoms died yesterday of a heart attack, the health ministry said.

The outbreak in Nigeria remains minor compared to the other affected West African nations, but rising cases in Lagos - sub-Saharan Africa's most populous city - poses unique challenges to health workers.

Nigeria's Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said all seven confirmed cases in his country had "primary contact" with Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian finance ministry employee who brought the virus to Lagos on July 20.

Sawyer, who travelled to Nigeria from Monrovia via Togo's capital Lome for a regional meeting, was visibly sick upon arrival at Lagos international airport.

Officials said he was immediately transferred to a hospital next to the bustling Obalende market, where thousands of Nigerians shop for basic goods.

Sawyer died in quarantine on July 25 after infecting several hospital staff, including a nurse who died on Tuesday night.

A Lagos state health official said health workers were trying to track down all potential contacts of the six other patients, but he could not estimate how people now needed to be monitored.

Americans Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who contracted the disease while working for Christian aid agencies in Liberia, were brought back in recent days to the United States for treatment in an Atlanta hospital.

Ebola typically kills about two-thirds of those it infects. The latest outbreak has a fatality rate of about 55 per cent.