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Officials scramble to contain Ebola

Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the US, died on Wednesday morning.

A member of the Hazmat crew carries a barrel down stairs from the apartment where Thomas Eric Duncan the Ebola patient was staying in Dallas, Texas on 3 October 2014. EPA/Larry Smith.

JOHANNESBURG -As the world reacts to the death of the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the US, the Department of Health in South Africa says a man quarantined in a Potchefstroom hospital has not travelled to any of the West African nations currently battling to control the outbreak.

A 72-year-old man is under observation in a casualty ward at the hospital where he arrived yesterday with a high fever.

Health department spokesperson Joe Maila says the patient's fever has not been linked to the Ebola virus and isolating him is standard procedure.

"We don't have an Ebola case, there's just one person who came to the hospital who was sick and he was isolated to make sure we diagnose the problem."

Thomas Eric Duncan's death has sent shock waves around the world raising more concerns of how the deadly virus can be stopped from spreading to other countries.

Duncan died in a Texas hospital yesterday.

He became ill after arriving in the Texas city from the West African country of Liberia on 20 September to visit family, heightening concerns the world's worst Ebola outbreak on record could spread in the United States

International agencies and governments are fighting to contain the world's worst Ebola epidemic since the disease was identified in 1976.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have been hardest hit by the disease, and cases have been reported in Senegal and Nigeria.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organisation said Ebola had claimed the lives of 3,879 people from among 8,033 confirmed, probable and suspected cases since it was identified in Guinea in March.

Ebola can take as long as three weeks before its victims show symptoms, at which point it becomes contagious. Ebola, which can cause fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, spreads through contact with bodily fluids such as blood or saliva.

QUESTIONS RAISED ABOUT DUNCAN'S MEDICAL CARE

Duncan's death has renewed questions about his medical care and whether his life could have been extended or saved if the Texas hospital where he first sought help had taken him in sooner.

Initially, doctors at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital sent him home when he complained of a fever but he returned after his condition worsened.

At the same time, health officials are now closely watching Duncan's family members.

Members of the deceased's family are having their temperatures taken twice daily to make sure they don't have symptoms.

Duncan received an experimental drug nearly a week after being admitted into hospital, a longer wait than experienced by four other Ebola patients treated.

An NBC cameraman who also got infected in Liberia, is also receiving the same experimental drug.

He is said to be in a stable condition, while the other three have been released from hospital.

Meanwhile, the World Bank says the economic impact of Ebola could be limited if immediate national and international action is taken to stop the spread of the haemorrhagic fever.

The bank has warned the regional impact of West Africa's Ebola epidemic could reach more than R360 billion by the end of next year if it spreads beyond Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The bank's David Evans says the economic impact of Ebola is already being felt in the affected West African countries.

"If we don't increase our response, then we're looking at a major regional problem from an economic perspective."

Evans says if efforts to halt the spread of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone fail the entire West African region faces a crisis.

"If it's not brought under control in the next few months the economic impact could be catastrophic."

Global concerns were sparked this week after a Spanish nurse became first person to be infected with Ebola outside West Africa.

Furthermore, the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s regional director said on Tuesday that more cases of the virus will almost inevitably spread in Europe but the continent is well prepared to control the disease.

The WHO's European director, Zsuzsanna Jakab, said further such events were "unavoidable".

Spanish health officials said four people had been hospitalised to try and stem any further spread of Ebola there after the nurse became the first person in the world known to have contracted the virus outside of Africa.

'EBOLA CAN BE CONTAINED'

The worst outbreak of Ebola on record can be contained if countries quickly build and staff treatment centres in West African nations hardest hit by the deadly virus, the United Nations (UN) Ebola response coordinator said on Wednesday.

"If we can reduce the number of people who are passing on their infection to others by about 70 percent, then the outbreak will come to an end," Dr. David Nabarro, the senior UN coordinator for the international response to Ebola, told Reuters.

"If, on the other hand, people continue to be able to transmit the virus to others when they have been ill, then the outbreak will continue and continue growing at the rate it is."

Nabarro praised the United States, Britain, the African Union and others for marshalling healthcare workers and military personnel to build and staff treatment centres in affected areas. He urged all countries to contribute whatever they could to the effort.

He also lauded the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda for providing skilled doctors and nurses.

"They've had the experience of dealing with Ebola inside their own countries and that is invaluable," he said. An outbreak of Ebola believed to be separate from the one in West Africa has been reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Healthcare systems in affected West African countries do not have the capacity to deal with the epidemic. Treatment centres are full and healthcare workers are at risk of infection.

Nabarro, who was the UN coordinator for the international response to avian and human influenza outbreaks, said the scale of the Ebola outbreak was doubling every three to four weeks.

"So good quality care in an isolated space that enables people to have a good chance of recovery is the key requirement," he said. "To do that, we need to have people who are skilled in providing care."

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