Two New Ebola Deaths in Liberia, Health Minister Confirms, Seven Total

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Monrovia — A woman confirmed to have traveled to the Firestone Plantation Camp in Liberia with the deadly Ebola virus has been pronounced dead.

Health and Social Welfare Minister Dr. Walter Gwenigale told the weekly Ministry of Information press briefing Thursday that the death now brings to total death in Liberia since the outbreak started to seven.

Said Dr. Gwenigale: "The lady we have been following from Foyah to Chicken Soup Factory died last night. That information you people should know. I told you before that she was traveling with a child from Foyah in the taxi, that child is now sick and is currently being quarantined and observed. We have a total of seven deaths now."

Dr. Gwenigale also revealed that another woman who was under observation in Foyah but taken away by her family under the guise of taking her to to her pastor, has also died. "We first came and told you people that we had had four deaths, two in Foyah, two that came to Liberia, went back to Guinea and died there. Now we have added to those four, the lady who we were following in Firestone and the other lady that was in Foyah, so that will make it six. We are also adding to that list, a 25-year-old young man, who went to Tappita, he had fever for three days. At the time the doctors started to investigate, he started vomiting openly, so that makes it seven. We do not know whether all of these people are proven by laboratory tests, we do not know whether it is Ebola but by definition, we are treating them as if it is."

Minister Gwenigale said the health ministry is taking every rumor regarding the Ebola case with seriousness. "Whatever rumor we get, we investigate it and if you have reliable rumor about somebody in Matadi or Congotown, let us get good information so we can follow these rumors because we don't want to take anything lightly. You know there are some of you people who are here are reporters who take information to your papers and it is somebody else that will use that information that you carry to put out what they want to put out. Others will say irrespective of what you say to them, they will write what they want to. We know some of those. If you do not want to help us, don't undermine us."

Dr. Gwenigale dismissed suggestions that the ministry has been somersaulting in dispensing information regarding the Ebola spread. "Now, this language when I use it people say I've somersaulted. But we are treating each case as a suspect only. When we have confirmed it by laboratory tests, then we can say we have it. The fact that we are treating it as it is Ebola prevents the spread so that others may not be contaminated."

Dr. Gwenigale said the ministry is also looking into another reports from Grand Gedeh involving a Bassa man who died suddenly. "People thought he was dealing with an animal that got caught in the trap or something. We do not have all the facts but any death that is sudden, we have to investigate it and you people are the ones that can help us."

The minister reminded reporters of a parable given by a WHO official earlier in the week to stress the importance the ministry and the Liberian government has attached to the Ebola saga. "The WHO man made a statement and said that if you are in the house and the leopard or lion enter the house, you have to decide whether you want to close the house, so that the lion can eat you up or try to get the lion to go outside. This disease is here, we have the disease. It's not people that are crossing to bring it, it is people that have died here, that have spread it to other people that we are trying to follow to contain it."

The minister said a number of international health experts arrived in Liberia Wednesday to assist local authorities in curbing the disease.

"Yesterday, a plane landed at Spriggs Payne Airfield, that came with MSF people to help us - and one of them were one of those who went to Margibi to teach people about the proper clothing to wear when they are among the patients. Today or tomorrow, we're getting two more people, one from Atlanta in CDC and the CDC person coming from Kenya. We are also expecting other MSF people from Europe. These people are expect that are coming to help us, to show us how to protect you people and what have not and tell us what to do. And as they come and they see the severity of this, they will also be helping us to mobilize funds."

The minister said authorities have already estimated $US1.2 million to fight the disease but is still hoping for the government to pitch in. "We wrote our minister of Finance and said we are looking for this money from our donors but please give us some money because we have to send money to people when they get to the border. All the people that are sending us information, they have to have scratch cards for them."

Dr. Gwenigale said the government has already made available $US250,000 while the Mano River Union has chipped in. "We received that check yesterday. The Mano River Union people give us another US$10,000. Since we have people all out, you know that that money has been used already. So we are accounting for that money, we don't touch money. I have finance people who touch money."

The latest woman to die from the Ebola virus at Firestone contracted Ebola while caring for her sister who died of Ebola in Foya, Lofa County, Liberia. She was at Firestone under observation in isolation, but unfortunately left the Foya area late night on March 29 and traveled via taxi to Monrovia to see her husband. Five other people were in the taxi with her, including the driver. She then took a pehn pehn (motorcycle) to a nearby clinic, where she was seen and released. This woman is the only person in Liberia confirmed to have Ebola at this time. Authorities are said to be on the lookout for at least 40 persons who may or may not have crossed path with the deceased woman.

Until her death, the woman and her family were being quarantined in their home until they could be moved to an appropriate facility.

The Health Ministry is monitoring those who came in contact with the woman in the initial taxi driver, and the motorcycle driver, who have been identified and are being followed closely. The World Health Organization and local health authorities are coordinating identification, tracking, and preparing isolation plans.

The U.S. State Department reported on its website this week that the risk of transmission remains very low as Ebola is contracted through contact with blood and body fluids or contaminated articles. "Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to Ebola virus, though 8-10 days is most common."