Deadly Disease Outbreak in Africa Causes Concern in Minnesota

Updated: 04/08/2014 7:56 AM
Created: 04/07/2014 10:46 PM
By: Tim Sherno

The World Health Organization is closely monitoring an outbreak of Ebola in the Western African countries of Guinea, Mali and Liberia.

Ebola is a virus that can be deadly in as many as 90 percent of cases of human infection. Currently, The World Health Organization (WHO) is attributing 90 deaths to the disease.

Abudllah Kiatamba is the Executive Director of African Immigrants Services and is a native of Liberia. According to the WHO, there are currently 18 suspected cases of Ebola in Liberia and seven deaths.

Kiatamba says he's been in close contact with family and friends in Liberia. "I made like 25 phone calls today to Liberia because I want to know what is going on," he said.

According to Kiatamba, there is a lot of misinformation and confusion in Liberia; he says a friend wrote saying hospitals are turning away patients who display symptoms that vaguely resemble those of Ebola.

Director of Infectious Disease at the Minnesota Department of Health Kris Ehresmann says the medical community worldwide is watching how this outbreak is progressing.

"We're monitoring it because what happens in other parts of the world certainly can have impact on Minnesota," Ehresmann said. "I think everyone is familiar with the phrase, 'infectious disease is only a plane ride away.'"

That refers to the impact rapid transportation has had on the spread of infectious disease. Ehresmann says the faster people can travel, the faster disease can travel.

"If your only means of transportation is to travel by foot then you can only spread the disease as far as you can walk," Ehresmann said. "But with the advent of air travel, people can be across the globe in a matter of hours."

Ebola is spread human to human through bodily fluids such as blood, saliva and sweat. The virus can incubate in the body for between two and 21 days before someone infected would present symptoms, and that person would not be contagious until symptoms appear.

Kiatamba says there is a lot of worry in Liberia and in Minnesota for those who are living in Liberia.

"It's creating anxiety in Minnesota and throughout the U.S. about, 'What can we do to families, parents, cousins, brothers in Liberia? Because it's almost like feeling helpless," Kiatamba said.

Health workers teach people about the Ebola virus and how to prevent infection, in Conakry, Guinea, Monday, March 31, 2014.
Photo: AP/Youssouf Bah

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