Ebola moving faster than control efforts, WHO warns

A Samaritan's Purse medical personnel demonstrates personal protective equipment to educate team members on the Ebola virus in Liberia in this undated handout photo courtesy of Samaritan's Purse. REUTERS

CONAKRY, Guinea -- An Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 700 people in West Africa is moving faster than the efforts to control the disease, the head of the World Health Organization warned as presidents from the affected countries met Friday in Guinea's capital.

Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, said the meeting in Conakry "must be a turning point" in the battle against Ebola, which is now sickening people in three African capitals for the first time in history.

"If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socio-economic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries," she said.

At least 729 people in four countries - Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria - have died since cases first emerged back in March. While health officials say the virus is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, many sick patients have refused to go to isolation centers.

The fatality rate has been about 60 percent, and the scenes of patients bleeding from the eyes, mouth and ears has led many relatives to keep their sick family members at home instead. Sierra Leone is now sending teams door-to-door in search of Ebola patients and others who have been exposed to the disease.

Chan emphasized Friday that the general public "is not at high risk of infection," but also said the Ebola virus should not be allowed to circulate widely.

"Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanisms of viruses and other microbes," she said. "We must not give this virus opportunities to deliver more surprises."

WHO has said it plans to launch a $100 million response plan that would include funding the deployment of hundreds more health care workers to the affected countries.

Meanwhile, other countries are taking precautions to prevent the spread.

The African Union mission in Somalia canceled a planned troop rotation by Sierra Leone forces in an effort to prevent Ebola from crossing into the Horn of Africa country, the military said.

Seychelles forfeited an African Cup qualifying game and withdrew from the competition Thursday rather than allow Sierra Leone's soccer team to travel to the Indian Ocean island.

And a cyclist from Sierra Leone competed in the Commonwealth Games after being tested for Ebola. Moses Sesay, 32, was admitted to a Glasgow hospital last week after feeling unwell, and doctors tested him for various conditions, including Ebola. Sesay was passed fit, and released from hospital in time to compete in the individual time trial on Thursday.

Meanwhile, plans are underway to bring back one of the two American aid workers sick with Ebola in Africa.

A small private jet based in Atlanta has been dispatched to Liberia where the two sick Americans work for missionary groups.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the plane would be equipped with an Aeromedical Biological Containment System (ABCS). The agency says the system is a "portable, tent-like device" that can be installed in a modified Gulfstream plane.

"It provides a means to perform emergency movement of exposed or contagious CDC personnel from the field, or site of exposure, to a facility that can provide appropriate medical care without risk to passengers or air crew," according to a statement from the agency's Division of Emergency Operations.

The two Americans are Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol. The plane can only carry one patient and officials have not said who is to be picked up.

Atlanta's Emory University Hospital says it expects one of the patients to be transferred there "within the next several days." The hospital has a special isolation unit.

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.