Ebola Epidemic Strikes Top Health Worker

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Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are continuing to suffer from the worst Ebola outbreak ever recorded. The World Health Organization is reporting more than 1,000 cases and more than 600 deaths.

And those trying working to stop it are being struck by the disease as well. This week, Sierra Leone's top health worker focused on Ebola, Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, was confirmed to have the disease himself.

NPR's Jason Beaubien just returned from Sierra Leone and told Here & Now's Meghna Chakrabarti that Kahn's recent infection is "a really bad public relations blow in a place where people are already incredibly terrified of this disease," since it shattered the public belief that doctors knew how to avoid infection.

Healthcare workers have been struggling to communicate how Ebola spreads to the dense, rural communities of West Africa, for whom this is the first recorded outbreak.

It's the type of disease that really does play with your fears and your emotions."

Jason Beaubien

"There's all these rumors out there that it's spread through the air, that it's spread by mosquitoes — just imagine you're living in a place where you've never seen a disease like this that kills people incredibly quickly. To imagine that it's spread by mosquitoes, which are everywhere and biting people, biting you — that doesn't help. Getting the messages out, letting people know that you can protect yourself, is really important," Beaubien said.

Since there is no cure for Ebola, it's unclear if and when this outbreak will be contained. Until then, doctors are hoping to increase chances of patient survival by catching new cases as soon as possible.

Even though Beaubien learned how to protect himself from the disease from experts at the WHO, the CDC and Doctors Without Borders, he too felt the worry that residents have been feeling for five months now.

"If you can avoid touching people who are sick and infectious, you're not going to get it," he explained. "I was doing absolutely everything I could to make sure that that didn't happen, and it never happened. But even doing that, you still are freaked out just thinking that it's around you. It's the type of disease that really does play with your fears and your emotions."


This segment aired on July 25, 2014.


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