The first known victim of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone is missing. Health officials are not able to locate her, and she appears to be on the run and/or in hiding. The Ebola outbreak in western Africa is the worst of its kind in history, and if things weren’t already bad enough for authorities trying to contain the epidemic, this latest aspect only scratches the surface of an outbreak that could get horribly worse before it is contained.
Reuters reported (via Yahoo News) July 25 that not only is the first known victim of the Ebola virus, a 32-year-old woman named Saudatu Koroma, out in the general population somewhere and in an unknown state, she is not the only one. The news agency also reports that health ministry data and officials reveal that dozens of people of Sierra Leone have been confirmed by laboratory tests to have Ebola and are now unaccounted for.
Most confirmed Ebola cases have originated in east Sierra Leone.
But with the death toll from the Ebola epidemic topping 660, according to the World Health Oganization, and the first case of death by the hemorrhagic fever virus in Lagos, Nigeria, Africa’s most crowded city, the horrific pathogen appears to be spreading geographically. The Nigerian case is the country’s first, but the nation becomes the fourth western African country to record a case of Ebola in the current outbreak. There have been over a thousand confirmed cases in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.
To make matters still worse, the Nigerian death was also the first ever example of the virus being transferred by airplane. The man, a Liberian government official, had flown to Lagos, a city of 21 million, from the capital of Liberia, Monrovia. It is as yet unknown how he contracted the virus but officials know that his sister also died from the pathogen.
In response, Nigeria has been placed on “red alert,” according to the Associated Press.
“All ports of entry into Nigeria, including airports, seaports and land borders, are placed on red alert,” Nigerian Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwusaid. “Ministry of Health specialists have been positioned in all entry points. Active surveillance has also been stepped up.”
In Sierra Leone’s search for their first recorded victim, officials have taken to posting radio announcements on stations in Freetown: “Saudatu Koroma of 25 Old Railway Line, Brima Lane, Wellington. She is a positive case and her being out there is a risk to all. We need the public to help us locate her.”
Prior to health officials receiving confirmation that Koroma had actually contracted the virus, her family forcibly removed the woman from the hospital’s isolation ward where doctors had already taken blood samples. With the samples testing positive, health officials are desperate to find the woman to treat her and to also prevent further spread of the disease through contact with her by isolating her from the general populace.
With dozens of unaccounted for individuals that have tested positive for the virus, the process of publicly announcing the names of contractees to try and thwart the epidemic will likely continue.
The Ebola virus, which was first discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976, has an historic death rate of 90 percent, although the current outbreak in West Africa has seen a mortality rate of 60 percent thus far. There is no known cure or vaccine for Ebola.