Nigerian officials confirmed two new cases of Ebola on Friday, bringing the number of people who have been stricken with the disease in Africa’s most populous nation to 14. Five have died, five have recovered and four are in isolation and being treated.
Onyebuchi Chukwu, Nigeria’s health minister, said the two new cases are the spouses of medical workers — a man and a woman — who took care of Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian American who brought Ebola to Nigeria in July. Sawyer was hospitalized on arrival in the Lagos airport from Liberia but was not immediately quarantined. He later died.
Even with the new cases, Nigeria has been more successful than some other West African countries in containing the outbreak, thanks to rigorous monitoring and contact tracing. “We have been able to close down the epidemic, control it, and we are not letting down our guard,” Chukwu said in a telephone interview.
The new patients, who were under surveillance for 15 days before displaying symptoms, are the first cases involving people who didn’t have direct contact with Sawyer.
A total of 213 people in Nigeria are being closely watched for any signs of the disease. They are confined to their homes and subject to daily checkups from health teams. Their families have been briefed extensively on how to recognize symptoms and avoid transmission.
Sixty-seven people who were under surveillance have undergone the 21-day waiting period and been cleared as disease-free.
The outbreak has mostly been confined to Lagos, a city of 21 million people. A nurse who treated Sawyer fled surveillance in Lagos to be with her husband in southeastern Enugu state; now six people with whom she had contact are under surveillance as well. The nurse is one of four people currently in isolation in Lagos.
Nigeria’s outbreak stoked fears that Ebola could be spread by air travel. Major carriers, including British Airways and Emirates, canceled flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone, the countries with the most Ebola cases.
“The joke in Nigeria is, ‘Ebola isn’t airborne, but it came into Nigeria by air,’ ” said Chukwu, emphasizing that Nigeria was not closing its borders or restricting travel.
The World Health Organization advises against any ban on travel or trade, warning that restrictions will result in food and fuel shortages and undermine response efforts. Despite that, countries that serve as major travel hubs throughout the continent, including Senegal, Kenya and South Africa, have barred travelers from the countries hardest hit by the epidemic: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Nigeria is ramping up its monitoring of airline passengers to detect any with higher-than-normal temperatures and is requiring travelers to fill out questionnaires on the details of their trips.
“We’ve not closed borders, but we are actively screening,” Chukwu said. “People are happy with this — they know government is doing something to protect them.”
At a news conference in the Liberian capital of Monrovia on Friday, the United Nations and the WHO announced plans to increase sharply the response to the epidemic that has claimed 1,350 lives.
Karin Landgren, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general and coordinator of U.N. operations in Liberia, discussed a 15-year-old boy who was shot by security forces during clashes around the quarantined Monrovia neighborhood of West Point. She said that the Liberian government must take responsibility for protecting its people, that quarantined areas must have access to basic necessities and that it is critical “that Ebola communities do not feel like they are being punished.”
Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s assistant director-general for health security, said the outbreak could continue for six to nine months. “This is not a hopeless situation. Ebola is not a new disease,” he said, adding that knowledge of transmission was “key to success.”
Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is scheduled to visit Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea next week, a CDC spokesman said.
The senior U.N. system coordinator for Ebola, David Nabarro, praised community-led action to combat. In the future, he said, people will say “that’s the way to tackle Ebola.”