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WHO Fights to Contain Ebola Outbreak in W. Africa

FILE - A scientist separates blood cells from plasma cells to isolate any Ebola RNA in order to test for the virus at the European Mobile Laboratory in Gueckedou, Guinea, April 2014.
The World Health Organization says Ebola continues to spread in West Africa as the first cases of this deadly disease are confirmed in Sierra Leone.

The World Health Organization warns the Ebola outbreak is spreading because many people do not understand how the virus is transmitted from one person to another.

A scientist with the WHO's Control of Epidemic Diseases, Pierre Fromenti, saw an example of this in a remote village in Sierra Leone. He says earlier this week, relatives of several Ebola patients removed them from a health facility in the town of Koindu and took them home, despite protests from medical staff.

He tells VOA the consequences of this action are now being seen.

“Of course, by doing that, they expose themselves, they expose the village," Fromenti said. "They have been, since this happened on Monday evening late, by being that, of course, they expose themselves again by being very close to patients suspected to be Ebola. Some of them are confirmed already ... And, we heard that one of them died already in the village.”

Dr. Fromenti says he does not believe the disease will spread beyond the villages where the patients were taken because they are all very sick and are not able to move around. But he says it is critical people understand the disease is transmitted by close contact with infected patients, and this should be avoided.

Periodic Ebola epidemics have hit Central Africa since 1976. But the current outbreak, which was first identified in Guinea in February, is the first to erupt in West Africa.

The latest WHO figures put the number of confirmed and suspected cases of the disease in Guinea at 280, including 103 deaths. In Liberia, there are 12 confirmed and suspected cases and nine deaths. The number of confirmed cases in Sierra Leone is seven, with at least two and as many as five deaths.

Dr. Fromenti says the fact this is West Africa's first outbreak of Ebola is working against containment of the disease. He says people do not understand the course of the disease or how to treat it. He says it is of utmost urgency this information be conveyed to all.

He says teams of experts are being sent to Guinea and Sierra Leone to address villagers' resistance to changing their behavior, so they can protect themselves and others from becoming infected with Ebola.