A third top doctor has died from ebola in Sierra Leone, a government official said, as health workers tried to determine how a fourth scientist also contracted the disease before being evacuated to Europe.
The announcements raised worries about Sierra Leone’s fight against ebola, which has killed more than 2,500 people across West Africa.
The World Health Organisation said it was sending a team to investigate how the epidemiologist now undergoing treatment in Germany may have contracted the disease, which kills more than half its victims.
“The international surge of health workers is extremely important and if something happens, if health workers get infected and it scares off other international health workers from coming, we will be in dire straits,” said Christy Feig, director of WHO communications in West Africa.
Dr Sahr Rogers had been working in a health clinic in the eastern town of Kenema when he contracted ebola, said Sierra Leonean presidential adviser Ibrahim Ben Kargbo. Two other top doctors have already succumbed to the disease since the outbreak emerged there earlier this year.
Meanwhile, doctors will continue to monitor the effects of an experimental drug on Britain’s first confirmed ebola patient, with the next few days described as “crucial”.
Doctors caring for William Pooley at the Royal Free Hospital in north London said he had been given ZMapp, which has been dubbed by some as the “cure” after two aid US workers were successfully treated for the virus after taking it.
Describing him as a “resilient and remarkable young man”, medics said he was sitting up, reading and chatting to staff.
The 29-year-old volunteer nurse was flown back to the UK for emergency treatment after contracting the virus in Sierra Leone.
Dr Michael Jacobs, consultant and clinical lead in infectious diseases at the hospital, confirmed he had been given a first dose of the drug on Monday with more to follow “in due course”.
He said: “It is an experimental medicine, we made that absolutely clear in our discussions with him.
“We thought there was sufficient reason to offer it to him and have the discussion. He considered his options very, very carefully.
“He wanted to weigh up what we knew about it and he came to the very clear conclusion in his own mind that he would like to go ahead with the treatment.”
He said it was “too early” to say what impact the drug has had but added: “Pleasingly, it seems to have had no side effects at all.”
Dr Jacobs said they had acquired the ZMapp through the hospital’s “clinical networks” and cited support they received from “international colleagues”.
Mr Pooley comes from the small village of Eyke in Suffolk.
Health workers have been especially vulnerable to the disease because of their close proximity to patients, who can spread the virus through bodily fluids. WHO says more than 120 health workers have died in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria.
Meanwhile, France’s government has asked Air France to suspend flights to the largest city in Sierra Leone in response to the epidemic.
Air France had no immediate comment on the request.