Public health advocates stage an Ebola awareness and prevention event on Aug. 18 in Monrovia, Liberia. / John Moore, Getty Images
The death toll from Ebola's devastation in West Africa has topped 1,200, even as the World Health Organization said Tuesday it sees some encouraging signs in the fight to contain the virus.
From Thursday through Saturday, WHO recorded 113 new cases and an additional 84 deaths, bringing the totals since the outbreak began to 2,240 cases, and 1,229 deaths, a fatality rate of 55%. Since emerging in December, the outbreak has been concentrated in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and more recently Nigeria.
The WHO, however, said in a release Tuesday the situation "looks reassuring" in Lagos, Nigeria, Africa's most populous city. That's where the first imported case arrived in July with the death of a Liberian-American traveler. In addition to the traveler, Patrick Sawyer, Nigeria has had 14 confirmed or suspected cases as of Aug. 16, three of whom died. All those infected were tied to health care workers or had direct contact with Sawyer, who died the day he arrived.
Sawyer was sick and vomiting while flying from Liberia to Nigeria, but did not pass the virus to fellow passengers, according to the WHO. The trip took place more than 21 days ago, so there is no longer any chance that fellow travelers could fall ill.
One of those who contracted the infection from Sawyer has now fully recovered, which should help reduce public fear. "It counters the widespread perception that infection with the Ebola virus is invariably a death sentence," the WHO statement said.
WHO also said the outbreak in Guinea where the virus first appeared in December has been brought under control and is "less alarming" than in Liberia or Sierra Leone. The progress there "is fragile," however, the WHO reported, with another outbreak possible. One case was reported last week in a previously unaffected area of the country, suggesting that the virus was continuing its spread.
In Liberia, Ebola is still raging out of control, despite quarantines and other containment efforts. More Liberians appear to be dying from the virus than in other countries. According to WHO statistics, 466 people out of 834 infected have died â?? a death rate of about 56%. Sierra Leone is reporting a 43% death rate, though it is possible that not all cases have been counted.
On the positive side, three Liberian health workers who received an experimental drug to treat Ebola are showing signs of recovery, officials said Tuesday, although medical experts caution it is not certain if the drug is effective.
The Liberians are being treated with the last known doses of ZMapp, which had earlier been given to two infected Americans and a Spaniard. The Americans are improving, but the Spaniard died.
"The medical professionals have informed the Liberian information ministry their progress is 'remarkable'," the ministry said in a statement, adding that they are showing "very positive signs of recovery."
Experts have said it's unclear if ZMapp, which had never before been tested in humans, is effective. Even if it is, the California-based maker of the drug has said more supplies of the drug won't be available for months.
Authorities in West Africa have had difficulty persuading the sick to seek treatment, relatives have sometimes taken their loved ones away from health centers and mobs have occasionally attacked health workers.
In an effort to stem the spread of Ebola, officials have imposed quarantines and travel restrictions for the sick and those in contact with them, sometimes shutting off whole villages and counties.
Those restrictions are limiting access to food and other basic necessities, said the WHO. The U.N. World Food Program has said that it is preparing to deliver food to 1 million people over the next three months.
"I think now there is a high vigilance in all countries," Fadela Chaib, a WHO spokeswoman, told reporters in Geneva. "I can't remember the last time we fed 1 million people in a quarantine situation."
Contributing: Associated Press
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