FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — A British national living in Sierra Leone has tested positive for Ebola, the first Briton to fall victim to the deadly disease that has spread across the West African region since March, officials said Saturday.
The World Health Organization estimates that the current Ebola epidemic — the world's worst ever with 1,427 documented deaths — will likely take six to nine months to halt.
Some aid organizations, including medical charity Doctors Without Borders, have warned that the outbreak, which began in Guinea before spreading to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, is now out of control.
The WHO conceded on Friday that the hiding of victims and the existence of “shadow zones” where medics cannot go has concealed the true scale of the epidemic.
Britain's deputy chief medical officer, John Watson, confirmed that a British national was among those suffering from Ebola and said medical experts were assessing the situation in Sierra Leone to ensure appropriate care was provided.
No further details about the British national were immediately available, and it was not known whether there were plans to evacuate the patient.
Ebola, which is passed on by direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected persons, strikes hardest at healthcare providers and caregivers who work closely with those infected. And dozens of local doctors and nurses have died from the virus in recent months.
Two American aid workers, who contracted Ebola in neighboring Liberia and were then evacuated, recovered from the disease and were released from a hospital in the United States late last week.
Fear, stigma and denial have led many families to hide their infected loved ones from health officials. In other instances, patients have been forcibly removed from treatment facilities and isolation centers, creating the risk of the disease's further spread.
Under-reporting of Ebola cases has been a problem particularly in Liberia and Sierra Leone, currently the two countries hardest hit by the virus.
Lawmakers in Sierra Leone on Friday voted overwhelmingly in favor of making the harboring of those infected with Ebola a crime carrying a punishment of two years in prison.
“The new regulation will provide for summary trial, meaning trial by a magistrate court alone,” Justice Minister Frank Kargbo said.
Two alarming new cases of Ebola have emerged in Nigeria, widening the circle of people sickened beyond the immediate group of caregivers who treated a dying airline passenger in one of Africa’s largest cities.
The two new cases in Nigeria were infected by their spouses, both medical workers who had direct contact with Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, who flew into Nigeria from Liberia and Togo and infected 11 others before he died in July. The male and female caregivers also then died of Ebola, Nigerian Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said Friday.
Nigerian officials initially claimed the risk of exposure to others was minimal because Mr. Sawyer was whisked into isolation after arriving at the airport. Lagos state health commissioner Jide Idris later acknowledged that Mr. Sawyer was not immediately quarantined.
The two new cases were quarantined a few days ago while being tested, Mr. Chukwu said. They had previously been under surveillance, meaning they were contacted daily to see if they developed any symptoms, but their movements were not restricted. Once they showed signs of the disease, they were brought in.