Another American aid worker has become infected with the ebola virus in Liberia. The patient has been identified as Nancy Writebol, a worker with the Christian aid group Serving in Mission, which runs a hospital on the outskirts of the Liberian capital Monrovia. Writebol had been working as a hygienist responsible for decontaminating those coming and going from the hospital's Ebola care center.
The diagnosis follows that of Dr. Ken Brantley, who was working in the same care center for the allied aid group Samaritan's Purse. Both Americans are said to be in stable but serious condition. Ken Isaacs, a vice president at Samaritan's Purse, told the AP of the team's declining morale: "It's been a shock to everyone on our team to have two of our players get pounded with the disease ... Our team is frankly getting tired."
The two cases fall in the midst of a historically devastating outbreak that has killed 129 people in Liberia, and more than 670 throughout West Africa. The highly contagious disease has no cure or vaccine, meaning aid workers must prevent the spread of the disease altogether. Thus, aid workers and the World Health Organization have to heavily rely on public education and social mobilization to prevent activities that pose a high risk of transmission. Ebola is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids and organs, so these activities include close contact with infected people and inefficient burial of the dead.
The task is made more difficult by growing fear and misunderstanding from locals, many of whom believe that doctors are directly to blame for the spread of the disease. As the New York Times explained in an article in today's paper:
Now the fear of aid workers, principally from Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross, is helping to spread the disease, health officials say, creating a secondary crisis.
Villagers flee at the sight of a Red Cross truck. When a Westerner passes, villagers cry out, “Ebola, Ebola!” and run away.
Late Sunday evening, Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson took action against the rapid spread of the virus by closing several border crossings and mandating the strict quarantining of infected communities.