LAGOS (Reuters) - The Nigerian city of Lagos shut down and quarantined on Monday a hospital where a man died of Ebola, the first recorded case of the highly infectious disease in Africa’s most populous country.
Patrick Sawyer, a consultant for the Liberian finance ministry aged in his 40s, collapsed on arrival at Lagos airport on July 20. He was put in isolation at the First Consultants Hospital in Obalende, one of the most crowded parts of a city that is home to 21 million people, and died on Friday.
“The private hospital was demobilized (evacuated) and the primary source of infection eliminated. The decontamination process in all the affected areas has commenced,” Lagos state health commissioner Jide Idris told a news conference.
Some hospital staff who were in close contact with the victim have been isolated. The hospital will be shut for a week and all staff closely monitored, Idris added.
Authorities are monitoring a total of 59 people who were in contact with Sawyer, including airport contacts, the Lagos state health ministry said. But the airline he flew in with has yet to provide a passenger list for the flights he used, it added.
Ebola has killed 672 people across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since it was first diagnosed in February.
The fatality rate of the current outbreak is around 60 percent although the disease can kill up to 90 percent of those who catch it. Highly contagious, its symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and internal and external bleeding.
Derek Gatherer, a virologist at Britain’s University of Lancaster, said anyone on the plane near Sawyer could be in “pretty serious danger”, but that relatively wealthy Nigeria was better placed to tackle the outbreak than poorer neighbors.
“Nigerians have deep pockets and they can do as much as any Western country could do if they have the motivation and organization to get it done,” he said.
Nigeria’s largest air carrier Arik Air has suspended flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone because of the risk of Ebola, Arik spokesman Ola Adebanji said in emailed response on Monday.
David Heymann, head of the Centre on Global Health Security at London’s Chatham House, said every person who had been on the plane to Lagos with Sawyer would need to be traced and told to monitor their temperature twice a day for 21 days.
The World Health Organization said in a statement that Sawyer’s flight had stopped in Lome in Togo on its way to Lagos.
“WHO is sending teams to both Nigeria and Togo to do follow-up work in relation to contact tracing, in particular to contacts he may have had on board the flight,” spokesman Paul Garwood said.
Liberia closed most of its border crossings and introduced stringent health measures on Sunday, a day after a 33-year-old American doctor working in Liberia for the relief organization Samaritan’s Purse tested positive for Ebola. The group said he had followed strict safety protocols when treating patients.
Nigeria’s airports, seaports and land borders have been on “red alert” since Friday over the disease.
Exacerbating the difficulty of containing its spread, Nigerian doctors are on strike over conditions and pay. The chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association, Tope Ojo, was quoted by local media on Saturday as saying the strike would not be called off because of the Ebola threat.
The WHO said that in the past week, its regional director for Africa, Luis Sambo, had been on a fact-finding mission to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which have 1,201 confirmed, suspected and probable cases between them.
“He observed that the outbreak is beyond each national health sector alone and urged the governments of the affected countries to mobilize and involve all sectors, including civil society and communities, in the response,” the WHO said.
A relative surge in cases in Guinea after weeks of low viral activity showed that “undetected chains of transmission existed in the community”, the WHO said, calling for containment measures and contact tracing to be stepped up in Guinea.
Additional reporting by Oludare Mayowa in Lagos, Tom Miles in Geneva and Kate Kelland in London; Editing by Catherine Evans