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Ebola virus multiplying at ‘terrifying rate,’ group says

From Al Jazeera (source link):  Ebola is spreading at a “terrifying rate,” with five people infected with the deadly virus every hour in Sierra Leone alone, according to data published Thursday by human rights organization Save the Children.

The London-based group estimates the rate of infected persons in the West African country will increase to 10 every hour if nothing is done to curb Ebola’s spread.

“The scale of the Ebola epidemic is devastating and growing every day, with five people infected every hour in Sierra Leone last week,” Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children, said in a statement. “We need a coordinated international response that ensures treatment centers are built and staffed immediately.”

The organization’s infection-rate figures are based on both confirmed cases and an estimate of how many cases are not being reported.

Save the Children’s urgent plea for a more concerted effort to tackle the virus came as Britain hosted an international conference titled “Defeating Ebola: Sierra Leone” in London on Thursday where officials announced plans to build up to 1,000 makeshift clinics in the African nation.

The new clinics will offer little, if any, treatment, but they will get sick people out of their homes, away from their families and hopefully slow the infection rate. Only a fraction of Ebola patients in Sierra Leone are now in treatment centers.

“If we don’t do anything, we’ll just be watching people die,” said Dr. Margaret Harris, spokeswoman for the World Health Organization.

While Ebola continues to ravage West Africa, Sierra Leone is one of the hardest-hit countries. The virus has killed more than 3,300 people and infected at least twice as many in West Africa.

Experts say the virus will continue to spread rapidly unless authorities can reach and isolate at least 70 percent of infected persons. Dozens of Ebola treatment centers have been promised, but they could take weeks or even months to be constructed.

The makeshift clinics, however, could be put up in as little as a week’s time, said Manuel Fontaine, the West Africa regional director for the U.N. Children’s Fund, which is preparing to help equip them.

“It’s not one or the other,” said Fontaine. “What we’re saying is the care centers need to move fast, but that shouldn’t be an excuse to slow down the ETUs (Ebola Treatment Units).”

Experts are turning to these imperfect solutions because the scale of the Ebola outbreak is overwhelming the traditional response methods tried so far.

“We need to try different things because of the scale of this outbreak,” said Brice de la Vingne, director of operations for Médecins Sans Frontières.

“We’ve used these kinds of basic tents in past catastrophes but never for Ebola,” he said. “But right now we’re screaming for more isolation centers so patients don’t infect their communities.”

Ebola’s American front

Concerns about the spread of Ebola took a new turn this week with the announcement of the first person diagnosed with the illness in the United States.

Health officials in Texas said on Thursday they had reached out to about 80 people who may have had direct or indirect contact with Thomas Eric Duncan or someone close to him.

Dallas County Health and Human Services spokeswoman Erikka Neroes said about 80 people are part of the “contact investigation.” Neroes said no one has shown symptoms of the virus.

Of the 80 people, Neroes said 12 to 18 had come into direct contact with Duncan. Others had second-hand contact with him. Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, said Thursday that four people are currently under quarantine as a precaution. But he stressed that they did not show any signs of Ebola symptoms.

“There’s food being delivered to them … we’re arranging for that apartment to be cleaned,” Lakey said.

Health officials said they educated the group on how to recognize Ebola symptoms and instructed them to notify health workers if they feel ill.

Earlier on Thursday, the Texas health services department said it was working from a list of about 100 potential or possible contacts and would soon have an official contact tracing number that would be lower.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we’re starting with this very wide net, including people who have had even brief encounters with the patient or the patient’s home,” said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman with the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Duncan recently traveled from Liberia to Dallas. He was dismissed from the hospital last Thursday and treated with antibiotics after falling ill. But when he returned to the hospital last Sunday, doctors diagnosed him with the Ebola virus.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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