Fatigue, fear are daily lot of Ebola fighters: experts

July 30, 2014 by Richard Ingham

Doctors, nurses and hospital workers fighting the Ebola epidemic in west Africa are struggling with a daily burden of exhaustion, shortage of staff and fear for themselves over the deadly virus, specialists say.

Containing an outbreak by a lethal pathogen places big demands on workers in any health system, but this is especially the case in one of the world's poorest regions, they say.

Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who co-discovered the Ebola virus in 1976, said health workers faced "their own fear of this epidemic, a fear that is grounded in reality. They're the front line."

"They often don't have the resources, they see colleagues dying, so I'm not surprised that some hospitals have been abandoned, basically," he said in an interview with AFP in London.

"Some nurses in some hospitals have gone on strike because there isn't a minimum basic equipment for protecting both the hospital workers and the patients and their relatives."

"The health workers are tired," said Jean-Claude Manuguerra, a professor at the Pasteur Institute in Paris who spent two weeks at the Donka Hospital in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, the country that has been at the epicentre of the scare.

"It's hard to recruit people and get them to come. Some aren't available, and there's the factors of fatigue and fear."

The epidemic has caused more than 670 deaths and 1,200 cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leona, with one case confirmed in Nigeria.

Piot on Wednesday said the number of cases in Guinea appeared to be in decline but was rising in Liberia and Sierra Leone, where it had become "a national emergency" in the two countries.

Brigitte Vasset, deputy medical director at the French-based charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors without Borders, said tackling an Ebola outbreak required a large pool of personnel.

They were not just doctors and nurses who had to handle infected patients, she said.

Around half are people who take care of things such as logistics and cleaning and going to homes to trace relatives or friends of people who have fallen sick.

They, too, need to be trained in infection risk, she said in a phone interview.

Every extension of the outbreak ratchets up the demand for resources, she said.

Foreign staff for MSF who were being sent to fight the epidemic are being rotated every three weeks "before they go beyond the point of exhaustion," she said.

"We can no longer respond to every outbreak," Vasset warned. "We just don't have the staff to train other people properly and ensure that they are not placed at risk. We need to have more people, more specialists."

'40 minutes, maximum'

The Ebola virus is transmitted through contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected person.

After an incubation period of up to 21 days, the virus causes severe fever and muscle pain, weakness, vomiting and diarrhoea, and in some causes unstoppable bleeding that shuts down vital organs.

Treating patients with Ebola means donning a full protective suit, mask, gloves and goggles, which according to medical guidelines is then checked by a fellow worker to ensure there are no gaps to expose the skin.

The outfit is being worn in searing tropical heat, in clinics where there is no air conditioning, Vasset said. "You can stand it for 40 minutes maximum, then have to be replaced."

Those who go to remote villages to try to trace people who have been in contact with patients, or to educate locals about the risks of contamination, may encounter hostility from inhabitants who suspect they are bringing the virus, said Mariano Lugli, coordinator of MSF's operations in Guinea.

"We are being threatened if we go to certain villages," he told AFP on Monday. "There are regions where we don't have access and have absolutely no idea what's going on there."

Explore further: 5 things to know about Ebola outbreak in W. Africa

Related Stories

5 things to know about Ebola outbreak in W. Africa

July 28, 2014
(AP)—There has been panic and fear about the deadly Ebola disease spreading ever since Nigerian health officials reported Friday that a Liberian man sick with the disease had traveled to Togo and then Nigeria before dying. ...

Regional Ebola response centre to be set up in Guinea

July 11, 2014
A regional centre is being set up in Guinea to coordinate the response to the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola that has killed hundreds of people in west Africa, the World Health Organisation said Friday.

Sierra Leone steps up measures to tackle Ebola outbreak

June 20, 2014
Sierra Leone, one of three neighbouring west African countries facing an Ebola epidemic, has stepped up measures to fight the highly contagious and deadly disease, the health minister has said.

Guinea frets as Ebola virus spreads

June 19, 2014
A second spike in Ebola virus cases has panicked residents and health officials in Guinea, who fear a west African outbreak of the killer disease may now be out of control.

Ebola outbreak in Guinea an 'unprecedented epidemic', MSF says (Update)

March 31, 2014
Aid organisation Doctors Without Borders said Monday an Ebola outbreak suspected of killing at least 78 people in Guinea was an "unprecedented epidemic" that had spread across the west African nation.

Ebola cases rise in Africa as doctors sound alarm

June 23, 2014
The international medical organization Doctors Without Borders sounded the alarm Monday over the outbreak of the Ebola disease in West Africa as some 20 new deaths have been reported.

Recommended for you

Two lung diseases killed 3.6 million in 2015: study

August 17, 2017
The two most common chronic lung diseases claimed 3.6 million lives worldwide in 2015, according to a tally published Thursday in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

New test differentiates between Lyme disease, similar illness

August 16, 2017
Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States. But it can be confused with similar conditions, including Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness. A team of researchers led by Colorado ...

Addressing superbug resistance with phage therapy

August 16, 2017
International research involving a Monash biologist shows that bacteriophage therapy – a process whereby bacterial viruses attack and destroy specific strains of bacteria - can be used successfully to treat systemic, multidrug ...

Can previous exposure to west Nile alter the course of Zika?

August 15, 2017
West Nile virus is no stranger to the U.S.-Mexico border; thousands of people in the region have contracted the mosquito-borne virus in the past. But could this previous exposure affect how intensely Zika sickens someone ...

Compounds in desert creosote bush could treat giardia and 'brain-eating' amoeba infections

August 15, 2017
Researchers at Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of California San Diego and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have found that compounds produced by the creosote bush, a ...

New malaria analysis method reveals disease severity in minutes

August 11, 2017
Left untreated, malaria can progress from being mild to severe—and potentially fatal—in 24 hours. So researchers at the University of British Columbia developed a method to quickly and sensitively assess the progression ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.