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A Liberian man reads an informational flier about the Ebola virus in Monrovia. / Ahmed Jallanzo, epa

DAKAR, Senegal - The deadly Ebola virus outbreak sweeping West Africa would likely expand farther because it's killing key medical professionals who are treating patients sick with the disease, health experts say.

"This outbreak is not showing any signs of slowing down," said Unni Krishnan, a doctor with the British relief agency Plan International, which is active throughout West Africa. "It is gaining more speed in some locations and killing even more people and now is affecting even more countries. It is all quite worrying."

The Ebola outbreak that started in February has spread across Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, killing more than 670 people and infecting more than 1,200 others, including two American doctors and prominent African specialists.

"We need more money, more materials, because we are talking about countries which already have some of the weakest health systems and a lack of resources," Krishnan said. "They were already stretched to their limits. With this Ebola outbreak, their health systems have been crippled, making it hard for them to contain the spread."

Doctors have strict measures to protect clinicians from the deadly virus, in addition to wearing hazmat-style protective gear that can slow down a doctor while treating a patient in the hot African summer, said Julie Diamond, a Senegal-based spokeswoman for Doctors Without Borders.

"There is sufficient space in between patients, clear separation between high-risk and low-risk areas, sufficient lighting, secure waste management and regular cleaning and disinfection of the wards," she said.

Still despite precautions, two American health workers have fallen ill. One of them, Nancy Writebol, a mother of two, was treating Ebola patients for the past year in the Liberian capital of Monrovia with the overseas Christian aid group Serving in Mission, before she contracted the deadly virus.

She is now in isolation, according to the aid group.

The other American infected in Monrovia is Kent Brantly, 33, a physician with the North Carolina-based medical charity Samaritan's Purse. Brantly, a father of two, had recognized his condition in its early stages and was in a stable condition in intensive medical care in a Monrovia hospital, according to the group Serving in Mission.

Doctors treating patients with the Ebola virus are at risk because it spreads through bodily fluids, like blood and sweat, according to the World Health Organization.

A Ugandan Ebola expert working in Liberia, Samuel Brisbane, died on Sunday, while Shiek Umar Khan, the leading Ebola doctor in Sierra Leone, contracted the virus last week. A Liberian doctor treating patients on the outskirts of Monrovia also died from Ebola on Saturday.

First transmitted to humans via animals, infected patients are only contagious to other humans after they exhibit symptoms of the virus, leading caregivers to put people who are sick in isolation. Symptoms include coughing and sore throat, then vomiting, diarrhea and internal bleeding.

The disease has a fatality rate of up to 90%. There is no cure, but some patients have survived under the close care of doctors.

Brantly's wife and children, who had been living with him in Liberia, flew home to the United States about a week ago, before the doctor began showing symptoms, said Melissa Strickland, spokeswoman for Samaritan's Purse.

West African authorities have put airports on heightened alert and are screening flights for people with possible signs of Ebola since an infected passenger flew from Liberia to Nigeria. The man died Friday in the Nigerian capital, Lagos. Authorities are now monitoring passengers who were on the flight, which stopped briefly in Togo.

Krishnan and other health workers said high mobility as well as a lack of knowledge among West Africans contribute to the outbreak. Distrust in rural communities against foreign doctors and aid workers have also hampered efforts to control the virus.

Many West Africans continue to deny the existence of Ebola, seeking treatment from witch doctors and traditional healers while practicing customary burial rituals, including touching corpses, which can spread the disease.

"We need to stop people from coming in contact with people who have been infected, both who are alive and dead, because Ebola can continue to spread even from dead bodies," Krishnan said. "We also need to stop the spread, stop people who have been infected from moving across borders. "

He was glad Nigerian officials were taking steps so air carriers can help stop spreading the disease.

"I think that throughout this whole outbreak there has been an underestimate about the ability of the disease and the ability of this outbreak to spread across borders," Krishnan said.

The outbreak has not yet reached Senegal. But residents of the country's capital, Dakar, are worried.

"I'm very afraid that this disease keeps spreading," real estate agent Papa Konate said. "It is still far from here, but you never know. Ebola can affect anyone, everyone."

Waters reported from Berlin



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Ebola may expand its deadly reach beyond Africa

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