How Ebola Spreads: One Doctor’s Tragedy

To illustrate how Ebola is being transmitted from person to person and some of the difficulties faced by professionals who are trying to control this disease, here is just one story about how a doctor in Port Harcourt was unknowingly infected with the virus. He died of the disease.

The doctor caught Ebola when an infected diplomat (who had been ordered to stay in Lagos) secretly travelled to Port Harcourt and sought treatment from this physician. The diplomat did not reveal that he had Ebola and returned to Lagos after recovering.

Meanwhile, the doctor, who was now infected, had close contact with family, friends, and healthcare workers. The doctor began to develop symptoms of this infection, but, because he was unaware that the diplomat had exposed him, he continued treating patients at his private clinic for 2 days, operating on at least 2 of the patients. Eventually he became so ill that he stayed home, however, he received multiple visitors. The doctor himself was eventually hospitalized, still not knowing that he had Ebola.

During his 6-day period of hospitalization, the majority of the hospital’s health care staff attended him, and members of his church community visited and performed a healing ritual that apparently involved laying on of hands.

The diagnosis of Ebola infection was not confirmed until 5 days after the doctor’s death. Now his wife (also a doctor) is hospitalized with Ebola and at least 200 people who are contacts of the deceased doctor are being monitored. During the coming days to weeks, more cases of Ebola will appear in this group, and then their group of contacts will produce more cases, and so on.

Failure to cooperate with health authorities (the diplomat), coupled with deceit (failure to disclose Ebola infection) and failure to suspect Ebola (the doctor) all contributed to this tragedy.

There have now been about 3,500 cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal, WHO Director Margaret Chan confirmed on Wednesday.