Child malaria vaccine 'milestone'

By Smitha Mundasad
Health reporter, BBC News

Children being examined by doctorsMaking malaria vaccine available for routine use will be a major milestone, researchers say

Experts say the world’s first malaria vaccine could be approved for use in 2015.

Reporting in PLOS Medicine, researchers found that for every 1,000 children who received the vaccine, an average of 800 cases of illness could be prevented.

And in continuing trials it went on to provide protection some 18 months after the injections were given.

Manufacturers GSK have now applied for regulatory approval – making this the first vaccine to reach this step.

Malaria affects millions of people worldwide and results in 800,000 deaths each year – the majority in children under five who live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Early defence

In the most advanced trial to date, involving several African countries, 1,500 infants and children were given the RTS,S vaccine.

Revisiting them 18 months after the last injection, researchers found that in young children the vaccine almost halved the number of cases of malaria.

And for infants (who were aged six to 12 weeks at first vaccination) the drug reduced episodes of malaria by a quarter.

Though the effectiveness of the vaccine was seen to wane over time, the report suggests it may have the largest impact in areas with high rates of disease.

For example, in some Kenyan cities, 2,000 cases of clinical malaria were prevented for every 1,000 children who received the drug (people in this area are at risk of repeated infections).

GlaxoSmithKline has now asked the European Medicine’s Authority to approve it for global use.

Booster doses

And the drug-makers say together with other preventative measures such as bed nets and insecticides, this could represent a huge step forward in malaria control.

Scientists are investigating whether a booster could further improve the chances of success.

Prof Sanjeev Krishna of St George’s University of London who was not involved in the research but reviewed the paper for the journal said: “This is a milestone. The landscape of malaria vaccine development is littered with carcasses, with vaccines dying left, right and centre.

“To get to this stage is very encouraging indeed. We eagerly await the next results to see how long-lasting protection is and whether a booster adds further potential.

“We need to keep a watchful eye for adverse events but everything appears on track for the vaccine to be approved as early as next year.”

Prof Brian Greenwood of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who was involved in the research, told the BBC: “To finally get a malaria vaccine licensed would be a huge leap forward.

“Though it does not provide 100% protection, for areas where malaria is commonplace this has the potential to have a real impact.”

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is developing RTS,S with the non-profit Path Malaria Vaccine Initiative, supported by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Liberia bans football over Ebola

Medical staff working  prepare to bring food to patients kept in an isolation area at an Ebola treatment centre in Kailahun, eastern Sierra Leone on 20 July 2014 Sierra Leone is one of the countries battling the outbreak

Liberia has suspended all football activities in an effort to control the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

There was a risk of infection because football is a contact sport, the football association said.

The number of people killed by the virus in West Africa has now reached 672, according to new UN figures.

A major regional airliner, Asky, said it had halted flights to the Liberian and Sierra Leonean capitals because of growing concerns about the virus.

It is the second airline company to take such a decision, following the deadliest Ebola outbreak ever.

Lift restrictions

Ebola kills up to 90% of those infected, but patients have a better chance of survival if they receive early treatment.

It spreads through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids.

A banner creating awareness about Ebola in Monrovia, Liberia (28 July 2014)Liberia tied Independence Day celebrations on 26 July to efforts to create more awareness around Ebola

A Liberian man washes his hands as an extra precaution for the prevention of the spread of the Ebola virus before entering a church service in Monrovia, Liberia -27 July 2014Greater emphasis is being placed on hygiene in an effort to contain the virus

The outbreak was first reported in Guinea in February. It then spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Last week, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, reported its first case – that of Liberian government employee Patrick Sawyer who flew to the main city, Lagos, in an Asky flight.

All officials who had direct or indirect contact with Mr Sawyer, 40, had been placed under “observatory surveillance” by health authorities, Liberia’s finance ministry said.

Fifa trip in jeopardy

Mr Sawyer was a senior official in the ministry, and died in Lagos five days after arriving in the city.

Nigerian authorities have so far identified 59 people who came into contact with Mr Sawyer and have tested 20, Lagos State Health Commissioner Jide Idris is quoted by the Associated Press (AP) news agency as saying.


Ebola since 1976

Graphic showing Ebola virus outbreaks since 1976

A map showing Ebola outbreaks since 1976


The city’s First Consultants Hospital, where Mr Sawyer was treated, has been temporary shut down for decontamination, Reuters news agency reports.

In a statement, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said that 1,201 Ebola cases had been reported in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Of the 672 deaths, the highest number was in Guinea with 319, followed by Liberia with 249 and Sierra Leone with 224, it said.

A patient is treated

Ebola explained in 60 seconds

The BBC’s Jonathan Paye Layleh in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, says that public awareness campaigns around Ebola have been stepped up following the death at the weekend of renowned Liberian doctor Samuel Brisbane.

Liberia’s ex-football star George Weah has joined the campaign to create greater awareness.

“If one person gets affected, 100 persons will get affected, if 100 persons get affected, one million people will get affected,” Mr Weah said.

Liberian Football Association President Musa Hassan Bility told the BBC that all football activity had been indefinitely suspend to protect players and fans.

“Football being a contact sport – people are sweating – they do contact each other, and that could result in contracting the disease,” he said.

“It also has to do with the fans because whenever there is a game, a lot of people come together and we want to discourage gathering at this point.”

Mr Bility said the association had written to football governing body Fifa, asking it to call off two visits to Liberia planned for August and September.

“We’ve asked Fifa to suspend both because we do not want the life of the Fifa president to be exposed to this disease,” Mr Bility told the BBC.

Many people in Monrovia are worried about the outbreak, and fewer people are going to restaurants and entertainment centres, our reporter says.

Most border crossings in Liberia have been closed to contain the outbreak and affected communities are being quarantined.

Police had been deployed to Liberia’s international airport to ensure passengers were screened for Ebola symptoms, our correspondent says.


Ebola virus disease (EVD)

Coloured transmission electron micro graph of a single Ebola virus, the cause of Ebola fever

  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Fatality rate can reach 90%
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats are considered to be virus’ natural host

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Hungarian competition watchdog probes Sanofi subsidiary

(Reuters) – Hungary’s competition watchdog GVH has raided the Hungarian headquarters of French drug maker Sanofi as the first step of proceedings against the firm for suspected abuse of its dominant market position.

A Sanofi spokeswoman confirmed that the Hungarian watchdog had searched the company’s offices on July 22. She said the group is “fully cooperating” with the regulator’s procedure, which concerns the conclusion of wholesale trade contracts.

“The company is confident that it has at all times complied with all applicable laws and regulations,” she said.

The watchdog said in a statement on Tuesday it had launched the probe after Sanofi, which sells several drugs in Hungary, refused to sign a contract with a drug wholesale company.

“The suspicion arose that Sanofi-Aventis… applies a practice in choosing its drug wholesale partners in which the selection is not based on the expected real economic efficiency of the link, while putting certain groups of market players into unjustified disadvantageous position relative to incumbent market players,” GVH said.

Sanofi acquired Aventis in 2004, creating Sanofi-Aventis. In 2011, the company simplified its name to Sanofi.

(Reporting by Sandor Peto in Budapest and Natalie Huet in Paris, editing by William Hardy)

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Researchers one step closer to finding treatment for Alzheimer's, other forms of dementia

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, but the research community is one step closer to finding treatment.

University of Washington bioengineers have a designed a peptide structure that can stop the harmful changes of the body’s normal proteins into a state that’s linked to widespread diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and Lou Gehrig’s disease. The synthetic molecule blocks these proteins as they shift from their normal state into an abnormally folded form by targeting a toxic intermediate phase.

The discovery of a protein blocker could lead to ways to diagnose and even treat a large swath of diseases that are hard to pin down and rarely have a cure.

“If you can truly catch and neutralize the toxic version of these proteins, then you hopefully never get any further damage in the body,” said senior author Valerie Daggett, a UW professor of bioengineering. “What’s critical with this and what has never been done before is that a single peptide sequence will work against the toxic versions of a number of different amyloid proteins and peptides, regardless of their amino acid sequence or the normal 3-D structures.”

The findings were published online this month in the journal eLife.

More than 40 illnesses known as amyloid diseases – Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and rheumatoid arthritis are a few – are linked to the buildup of proteins after they have transformed from their normally folded, biologically active forms to abnormally folded, grouped deposits called fibrils or plaques. This happens naturally as we age, to a certain extent – our bodies don’t break down proteins as quickly as they should, causing higher concentrations in some parts of the body.

Each amyloid disease has a unique, abnormally folded protein or peptide structure, but often such diseases are misdiagnosed because symptoms can be similar and pinpointing which protein is present usually isn’t done until after death, in an autopsy.

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As a result, many dementias are broadly diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease without definitive proof, and other diseases can go undiagnosed and untreated.

The molecular structure of an amyloid protein can be only slightly different from a normal protein and can transform to a toxic state fairly easily, which is why amyloid diseases are so prevalent. The researchers built a protein structure, called “alpha sheet,” that complements the toxic structure of amyloid proteins that they discovered in computer simulations. The alpha sheet effectively attacks the toxic middle state the protein goes through as it transitions from normal to abnormal.

The structures could be tailored even further to bind specifically with the proteins in certain diseases, which could be useful for specific therapies. The researchers hope their designed compounds could be used as diagnostics for amyloid diseases and as drugs to treat the diseases or at least slow progression.

“For example, patients could have a broad first-pass test done to see if they have an amyloid disease and then drill down further to determine which proteins are present to identify the specific disease,” Daggett said.

The research team includes Gene Hopping, Jackson Kellock and James Bryers of UW bioengineering; Gabriele Varani and Ravi Pratap Barnwal of UW chemistry; Peter Law, a former UW graduate student; and Byron Caughey of the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories. Working with the UW’s Center for Commercialization, they have a patent on one compound and have submitted an application to patent the entire class of related compounds.

This research began a decade ago in Daggett’s lab when a former graduate student, Roger Armen, first discovered this new secondary structure through computer simulations. Daggett’s team was able to prove its validity in recent years by designing stable compounds and testing their ability to bind toxic versions of different amyloid proteins in the lab.

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Slower U.S. healthcare cost rise extending life of Medicare fund: trustees

A doctor holds the hand of a patient in a hospital in Peoria, Illinois.  REUTERS/Jim Young

A doctor holds the hand of a patient in a hospital in Peoria, Illinois.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

(Reuters) – Tamer spending at U.S. hospitals and expected savings from President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul are shoring up the funding outlook for the Medicare program for the elderly, trustees of the program said on Monday.

Medicare’s trust fund for hospital bills will run out of money in 2030, four years later than previously estimated, the trustees said in a report. The trustees, however, reiterated a warning that the Social Security program would run out of money to fully pay disability benefits by 2016 and could not meet all of its obligations on pensions after 2033.

The report gives mixed messages about the urgency of reforming America’s biggest social welfare programs, which together make up about 40 percent of federal spending.

While the arrival date for Medicare’s crunch has been pushed into the future, an aging population is already stressing the finances of programs that provide income for the disabled.

“The long-term picture this year looks very similar to last year’s report. The short-term picture has grown more urgent,” Charles Blahous, the lone Republican on the board of trustees, said at a news conference.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who is one of the trustees, said the disability program could be temporarily patched up by Congress redirecting revenues from another Social Security fund. That would buy time to work out a long-term solution, he said.

A partisan divide in Washington has made major reforms of Medicare and Social Security appear nigh impossible in recent years. Republicans want to rein in government spending, while Lew said Obama will not support any proposal that hits current beneficiaries or that slashes benefits for future retirees.

The trustees said the Medicare hospital fund would last longer than previously thought because “expenditures in 2013 were significantly lower than the previous estimate.” They said it wasn’t clear how much of the slowdown was because of a weak economy and how much was due to Obama’s healthcare overhaul, which is expanding insurance coverage. Nevertheless, the trustees said they expected “substantial” savings from Obamacare.

The trustees said congressional action was still needed to address long-term solvency in Medicare and Social Security.

“The sooner the policymakers address these challenges, the less disruptive the unavoidable adjustments will be,” said trustee Robert Reischauer, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office.

The report’s conclusions largely mirrored those made earlier this month by the nonpartisan CBO, which also pushed back to 2030 its projection of when Medicare’s main trust fund would be exhausted.

Depletion of the Medicare and Social Security trust funds does not mean that all benefits would stop. At the current rate of payroll tax collections, for example, Medicare would be able to pay about 85 percent of costs in 2030.

Social Security would be able to pay about 80 percent of disability benefits starting in “late 2016,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.

(Reporting by Jason Lange and David Morgan; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Cynthia Osterman)

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Liberia shuts borders to curb Ebola

Medical workers

Ebola has no vaccine and no cure as Emily Thomas reports.

Most border crossings in Liberia have been closed and communities hit by an Ebola outbreak face quarantine to try to halt the spread of the virus.

Screening centres are also being set up at the few major entry points that will remain open, such as the main airport.

Meanwhile, Nigeria largest’s airline, Arik Air, has suspended all flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone after a man with Ebola flew to Nigeria last week.

The virus has killed at least 660 people in West Africa since February.

The outbreak began in southern Guinea and spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. It is the world’s deadliest so far.

Nigeria has put all its entry points on red alert after confirming that a Liberian man died of Ebola after arriving at Lagos airport on Tuesday.


Ebola since 1976

Graph showing Ebola deaths since 1976

A map showing Ebola outbreaks since 1976

Latest WHO update on West Africa outbreak


Ebola kills up to 90% of those infected, but patients have a better chance of survival if they receive early treatment.

It spreads through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids.

Arik Air said it took the decision to halt flights as a precautionary measure and called for all inbound flights to Nigeria from Ebola-affected countries to be suspended.

“We feel especially compelled to take the business decision to immediately suspend flight services into the two Ebola affected countries due to our interest in the well-being of Nigerians,” the airline, which operates routes across West Africa, said in a statement.

A Liberian man washes his hands as an extra precaution for the prevention of the spread of the Ebola virus before entering a church service in Monrovia, Liberia -27 July 2014There are to be more areas for people to wash their hands to help stop the spread of the virus

In a statement on Sunday night, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said the special Ebola task force she was heading would ensure that “communities that are seriously affected will be quarantined and travels in and out of such communities restricted”.

The BBC’s Jonathan Paye-Layleh in the capital, Monrovia, says her new orders include strict observation at the international airport of all outgoing and incoming passengers, who are now liable for inspection and testing.

All government facilities and public places are to install public access for washing of hands and all hotels, restaurants, and film centres are to play five-minute information clips on Ebola awareness and prevention.

A patient is treated

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the world’s largest

Over the weekend prominent Liberian doctor Samuel Brisbane died after a three-week battle with the virus.

Two US aid workers are also being treated for Ebola in Liberia, including Dr Kent Brantly, who was the medical director at one of the country’s two treatment centres run by the group the Samaritan’s Purse.

A medical worker puts on a mask

Dr Ben Neuman tells 5 live: “There’s a lot of panic”

The other American, Nancy Writebol, works for the Serving in Mission (SIM) as part of the same team.

“It’s been a shock to everyone on our team to have two of our players get pounded with the disease,” Ken Isaacs, from the Samaritan’s Purse in the US, told the Associated Press news agency.

President Johnson Sirleaf urged people to co-operate with health workers and Ebola awareness campaigners.

Last month she warned that anyone caught hiding suspected Ebola patients would be prosecuted.

Experts say the disease creates fear within communities and sick people are often stigmatised.

Liberian Senator Peter Coleman, a doctor and former health minister, told the BBC authorities needed to approach religious leaders to spread the message about Ebola as “people don’t seem to believe anything the government now says”.


Ebola virus disease (EVD)

Coloured transmission electron micro graph of a single Ebola virus, the cause of Ebola fever

  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Fatality rate can reach 90%
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats are considered to be virus’ natural host

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'Poor care for hepatitis C virus'

By Smitha Mundasad
Health reporter, BBC News

illustration of virus in bloodHepatitis C infection can lead to liver cancer, permanent liver scarring and liver failure

Official figures for England show just 3% of people who develop chronic hepatitis C each year receive treatment to help clear the virus.

The report, from Public Health England, says UK deaths from the condition have quadrupled in 16 years to some 400 in 2012.

The number of admissions to hospital for serious liver complications has also risen fourfold to 2,400.

Charities say the “shockingly low level of treatment” is failing patients.

‘Eminently preventable’

Hepatitis C, a viral infection spread through bodily fluids, currently affects more than 200,000 people in the UK.

According to experts intravenous drug use is the most common way of acquiring the disease in the UK.

Three-quarters of people with the virus go on to develop chronic disease – which can lead to liver cancer and permanent liver scarring (cirrhosis).

But the report shows the majority of people who need antiviral drugs to help clear the virus, do not receive them.

Officials say this is in part due to people being unaware they have the condition (it can have no symptoms in early years) and because of a lack of testing and treatment facilities for communities that need it most.

They warn that an extra 2,700 people could face hepatitis-C-related liver cancer or cirrhosis in England over the next year if the situation does not improve.

Experts predict if everyone had access to newer, more effective medications, some 8,000 people could be prevented from suffering these often fatal complications by 2025.

Public Health England says there is an urgent need for better monitoring of patients and wider testing for people at risk.

They call for treatment to be expanded to non-traditional settings such as prisons, primary care and drug treatment centres.

‘Pressing need’

Charles Gore, chief executive of the Hepatitis C Trust said: “We must accept the rising hospital episodes and deaths, the poor diagnosis rate and the shockingly low level of treatment means we are failing patients.

“This report highlights the pressing need for immediate scale-up of the whole response to hepatitis C from prevention, through diagnosis and into treatment.

“Deaths from hepatitis C are now eminently preventable. It is up to us to see that we do prevent them.”

Dr Paul Cosford of Public Health England said: “The landscape of hepatitis C treatment is changing rapidly and an era of vastly improved treatment is potentially on the way.

“In the meantime, the disease burden is rising and there is still a pressing need for infected patients to be treated as soon as possible.”

Before improved blood screening was introduced in 1991, some people acquired the disease through contaminated transfusions.

And experts say individuals who have dental or medical treatments in countries with high rates and poor control of hepatitis C may continue to be at risk.

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Fist bumps relay 90 percent less germs than handshakes: study

(Reuters) – Ditching handshakes in favor of more informal fist bumps could help cut down on the spread of bacteria and illnesses, according to a study released on Monday.

The study in the American Journal of Infection Control found that fist bumps, where two people briefly press the top of their closed fists together, transferred about 90 percent less bacteria than handshakes.

“People rarely think about the health implications of shaking hands,” Dave Whitworth, a biologist at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom who co-authored the study, said in a statement.

“If the general public could be encouraged to fist bump, there is genuine potential to reduce the spread of infectious diseases,” he said.

The fist bump appears to enjoy the support of both U.S. President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama, both of whom have been seen enthusiastically using the greeting, the study notes.

The study used participants who wore gloves that had been thoroughly coated in a film of non-pathogenic E. coli bacteria. They then variously shook hands, high-fived and fist-bumped fellow participants in sterile gloves and the amount of transferred bacteria was examined.

High-five slaps transferred about half the amount of bacteria as shaking hands.

Handshakes relay more germs because they result in a larger area of contact between hands, but the strength and length of handshakes also play a role, the study found.

“Transmission is greater with increased duration and grip,” it said.

The research was prompted by an apparent increase in workplace cleanliness measures, including the growing use of hand sanitizers and keyboard disinfectants, the university said in a statement.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Eric Beech)

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'Nerve centre for appetite control'

By Smitha Mundasad
Health reporter, BBC News

Picture of children reaching for foodAppetite can be suppressed through a variety of signals in the brain

Scientists have discovered a central hub of brain cells that may put the brakes on a desire to eat, a study in mice shows.

And switching on these neurons can stop feeding immediately, according to the Nature Neurosciences report.

Researchers say the findings may one day contribute to therapies for obesity and anorexia.

Experts say this sheds light on the many complex nerve circuits involved in appetite control.

‘Flick a switch’

Scientists from the California Institute of Technology suggest the nerve cells act as a central switchboard, combining and relaying many different messages in the brain to help reduce food intake.

Using laser beams they were able to stimulate the neurons – leading to a complete and immediate stop to food consumption.

Prof David Anderson, lead author of the study told the BBC: “It was incredibly surprising.

“It was like you could just flick a switch and prevent the animals from feeding.”

Researchers then used chemicals to mimic a variety of scenarios – including feelings of satiety, malaise, nausea and a bitter taste.

They found the neurons were active in all situations, suggesting they may be integral in the response to many diverse stimuli.

The cells worked rapidly when mice had taken a full meal, indicating they may also play an important role in the prevention of over-eating.

‘Emotional link’

Prof Anderson said: “These cells represent the first well-defined hub that inhibits feeding in the brain.

“It is likely that similar cells exist in the human brain. If this is true and it can be proved they are involved in inhibiting eating in people, they could one day provide pathways for the development of therapies for many different eating disorders.”

They say they would next like to investigate how this cluster of cells interacts with other well-known nerve centres involved in the promotion of food intake.

The population of neurons involved in the current research are buried in a region of the brain known as the amygdala – an area which is also associated with emotions such as stress and fear.

Prof Mohammad Hajihosseini, from the University of East Anglia, UK, who was not involved in the research said: “This is a very important contribution.

“The researchers build on previous work and have found another piece of the jigsaw in the long and complex circuitry involved in appetite control in the brain.

“One of the next questions to answer is whether these neurons could be an important link between feeding and emotions.”

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Runaway Sierra Leone Ebola patient dies in ambulance

Health workers take blood samples for Ebola virus testing at a screening tent in the local government hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, June 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tommy Trenchard

Health workers take blood samples for Ebola virus testing at a screening tent in the local government hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, June 30, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Tommy Trenchard

(Reuters) – A Sierra Leone Ebola patient whose family sparked a nationwide hunt when they forcefully removed her from a treatment center and took her to a traditional healer, died in an ambulance on the way to hospital, a health official said.

Health officials say fear and mistrust of health workers in Sierra Leone, where many have more faith in traditional medicine, are hindering efforts to contain an Ebola outbreak which has killed more than 450 people in the country.

In recent days crowds gathered outside clinics and hospitals to protest against what they see as a conspiracy, in some cases clashing with police as they threatened to burn down the buildings and remove the patients.

Amadu Sisi, a senior doctor at King Harman hospital in the capital Freetown, from which the patient was taken, said on Saturday that police found her in the house of a healer.

Her family refused to hand her over and a struggle ensued with police, who finally retrieved her and sent her to hospital, he said.

“She died in the ambulance on the way to another hospital,” Sisi said.

Across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, at least 660 people have died from the worst outbreak yet of the haemorrhagic fever, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, placing great strain on the health systems of some of Africa’s poorest countries.

The virus is still spreading. A 33-year-old American doctor working for relief organization Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia tested positive for the disease on Saturday. The charity said on Sunday a second American, whom it named as Nancy Writebol, had also tested positive.

She was helping a team treating Ebola patients at a case management center in Monrovia, it said.

In Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, a Liberian man who tested positive died in on Friday.

West African health officials say the deep cultural suspicions mean relatives in some countries will continue to try to remove sick patients from hospitals and carry out traditional funerals, which often involve the manual washing of the body, instead of allowing the authorities to bury them.


Sierra Leone now has the highest number of Ebola cases, at 454, surpassing neighboring Guinea where the outbreak originated in February.

Police were guarding the country’s main Ebola hospital in Kenema in the West African country’s remote east on Saturday, where dozens are receiving treatment for the virus.

Thousands had gathered outside the clinic the day before, threatening to burn it down and remove the patients. Residents said police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds and that a 9-year-old boy was shot in the leg by a police bullet.

Assistant Inspector General Alfred Karrow-Kamara said on Saturday the protest was sparked by a former nurse who had told a crowd at a nearby fish market that “Ebola was unreal and a gimmick aimed at carrying out cannibalistic rituals”.

He said calm had been restored to Kenema on Saturday, adding that a strong armed police presence was in place around the clinic and the local police station.

Some health workers from the clinic have been reported absent from work because of “misconceptions by some members of the community,” according to a local doctor.

Ebola can kill up to 90 percent of those who catch it, although the fatality rate of the current outbreak is around 60 percent. Highly contagious, especially in the late stages, its symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea as well as internal and external bleeding.

President Ernest Bai Koroma said on Saturday the government planned to “intensify activities and interventions in containing the disease and stopping it spread” with a view to ending the disease within 60 to 90 days.

The new strategy will focus on contact tracing, surveillance, communications and social mobilization, social services, logistics and supplies, according to the president’s statement.

(Additional reporting by Adam Bailes and Tom Miles; Writing by Bate Felix and Emma Farge; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and David Evans)

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