Sierra Leone: Sheltering Ebola-infected people 'is a crime'

Health workers, wearing protective suits, walking in an isolation centre for people infected with Ebola at Donka Hospital in Conakry, Guinea, on 14 April 2014. The Ebola outbreak started four months ago in Guinea

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Sierra Leone has warned it is a serious crime to shelter patients infected with the Ebola virus who are in hiding.

The Health Ministry said several patients had discharged themselves from hospital in Kenema district, the heart of the country's outbreak.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for "drastic action" to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has killed almost 400 people.

It is the largest outbreak in terms of cases, deaths and geographical spread.

There have been more than 600 cases in Guinea - where the outbreak started four months ago - and neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia. Around 60% of those infected with the virus have died.

The WHO says that in Sierra Leone alone, there have been at least 46 fatalities out of a total 176 people infected with the Ebola virus.

A scientist separates blood cells from plasma cells to isolate any Ebola RNA in order to test for the virus at the European Mobile Laboratory in Gueckedou, southern Guinea, on 3 April 2014. There is no known cure for the disease caused by the Ebola virus

The global health body has sent 150 experts to the region to help prevent the spread of the virus. However, it has warned of the potential for "further international spread".

Dr Shek Moar Khan, who is working with Ebola patients at Kenema government hospital, said his team met resistance when trying to inform people about the disease.

Health workers have been trying to explain to people in the areas affected that Ebola "is not a mystery, but simply it is a disease that somebody can acquire, and if only they could listen appropriately to our advice, then we could break the chain of transmission", he said.

On Friday, the WHO told several West African countries - Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal and Guinea Bissau - to prepare for the possible arrival of travellers carrying the deadly virus.

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Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, has no cure and is spread by contact with the fluids of infected people or animals, such as urine, sweat and blood.

Most of the deaths have been centred in the southern Guekedou region of Guinea.

The charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has already warned that the Ebola outbreak is out of control.

It says the epidemic will spread further unless there is a stronger international response.

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Ebola virus disease (EVD)
Molecular model of parts of the Ebola virus
  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Fatality rate can reach 90%
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats are considered to be the natural host of the virus

Why Ebola is so dangerous

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