PHOTO: On Saturday, July 26, 2014, Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, right, demonstrates to people how to wash their hands properly in order to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus, during Independence Day celebrations in the city of Monrovia, Liberia. Scientists from Fort Detrick say the number of Ebola cases in West Africa is much larger than official estimates indicate. Researchers from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, who have worked in Sierra Leone and Liberia, say the current outbreak reaches beyond the 1,200 confirmed, suspected or probable cases and over 600 deaths that the World Health Organization has identified in West Africa as of July 23. (AP Photo/Abbas Dulleh)
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — The deadliest recorded Ebola outbreak surpassed 700 deaths across West Africa on Thursday as the World Health Organization announced dozens of new deaths reported in the last several days.
In Sierra Leone, President Ernest Bai Koromadeclared a health emergency and vowed to quarantine sick patients at home and have authorities conduct house-to-house searches for others who may have been exposed. The country is struggling with families resisting treatment at isolation centers. Some have kept loved ones at home given the high death rates at clinics where Ebola patients are quarantined.
His announcement late Wednesday came as neighboring Liberia also ramped up its efforts to slow the virulent disease's spread, shutting down schools and ordering most public servants to stay home from work.
The U.S. Peace Corps also was evacuating hundreds of its volunteers in the affected countries. Two Peace Corps workers are under isolation outside the U.S. after having contact with a person who later died of the Ebola virus, a State Department official said.
Ebola now has been blamed for 729 deaths in four West African countries this year, and has shown no signs of slowing down particularly in Liberia and Sierra Leone. On Thursday, the WHO announced 57 new deaths — 27 in Liberia, 20 in Guinea, nine in Sierra Leone and one in Nigeria.
PHOTO: In this photo taken on Sunday, July 27, 2014, medical personnel work at the Doctors Without Borders facility in Kailahun, Sierra Leone where Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan died. A leading doctor who risked his own life to treat dozens of Ebola patients died Tuesday, July 29, 2014, from the disease, officials said, as a major regional airline announced it was suspending flights to the cities hardest hit by an outbreak that has killed more than 670 people. Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, who was praised as a national hero for treating the disease in Sierra Leone, was confirmed dead by health ministry officials there. He had been hospitalized in quarantine. (AP Photo/ Youssouf Bah)Among the dead was the chief doctor treating Ebola in Sierra Leone, who was to be buried Thursday.
The government said Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan's death was "an irreparable loss of this son of the soil." The 39-year-old was a leading doctor on hemorrhagic fevers in a nation with very few medical resources.
Ebola cases first emerged in the nation of Guinea back in March, and later spread across the borders to Liberia and Sierra Leone. The outbreak is now the largest recorded in world history, and has infected three African capitals with international airports. Officials are trying to step up screening of passengers, though an American man was able to fly from Liberia to Nigeria, where authorities say he died days later from Ebola.
Ebola has no vaccine and no specific treatment, with a fatality rate of about 60 percent in this particular outbreak. But experts say the risk of travelers contracting it is considered low because it requires direct contact with bodily fluids or secretions such as urine, blood, sweat or saliva. Ebola can't be spread like flu through casual contact or breathing in the same air.
Patients are contagious only once the disease has progressed to the point they show symptoms, according to the World Health Organization. The most vulnerable are health care workers and relatives who come in much closer contact with the sick.
In Liberia, authorities say 28 out of the 45 health workers who have contracted the disease so far have died. Two American health workers sick with the virus remain in isolation.
Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal; and Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia, Liberia contributed to this report.
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