LONDON — As West African nations grappled with the worst-ever outbreak of the Ebola virus, the World Health Organization said Tuesday
that the death toll had exceeded 1,200 and announced increased efforts to forestall severe food shortages in areas isolated by quarantines.
Alarm over the disease spread to Germany when a 30-year-old woman at a state employment office was found to have a high fever, a possible symptom of Ebola, and emergency medical personnel ordered her isolated for tests.
Within hours, a statement from the Charité hospital said physicians were inclined to believe that the woman had not been infected with the Ebola virus. While she had returned from Africa eight days ago, health authorities said, she was more likely to be suffering from an infectious illness of the stomach or intestine. But a blood test was being carried out to check for Ebola.
A week ago, Europe’s first known death from Ebola was recorded in Madrid, when a 75-year-old Spanish priest, the Rev. Miguel Pajares, died after being evacuated from Liberia, where he had been treating Ebola patients.
The latest figures from the WHO offered a familiar, grim picture of the spread of Ebola, which international health specialists say has been outpacing containment efforts since its identification in West Africa in March.
The only glimmer of relief, albeit faint, came when Reuters quoted Liberia’s information minister, Lewis Brown, as saying that three African doctors treated in his country with a scarce, experimental drug, ZMapp, were showing “remarkable signs of improvement.” There is no licensed cure or vaccine for Ebola, which kills at least half of those infected.
The maker manufacturer of the experimental medication, Mapp Biopharmaceutical of San Diego, has already said its limited stock of the drug, enough to treat a half-dozen people, is exhausted. The drug, which consists of antibodies that neutralize the Ebola virus, appears to have helped two American aid workers who contracted the disease in Liberia.
Brown was also quoted in news reports as saying that 17 people being tested for Ebola who were missing from a quarantine center in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, over the weekend had been located. Some reports said they had been transferred to a specialist Ebola treatment center at John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Monrovia, but other accounts said they had checked in there themselves.
The 17 patients fled a temporary holding center when it was ransacked by looters who took bloodstained sheets and mattresses that may carry the Ebola virus. The whereabouts of those items was not immediately clear Tuesday.
The disappearance of the patients raised fears that the disease might spread further in the poverty-stricken warren of narrow, muddy alleyways in Monrovia known as West Point. Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids.
Brown, the information minister, told Reuters that health specialists planned to go door to door through the neighborhood to explain the perils of the outbreak and the need to isolate people showing symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
At its headquarters in Geneva, the WHO said the number of people who had died in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone had reached 1,229, with 84 new fatalities reported from Aug. 14 to 16, the latest available figures.
The total number of cases was reported as 2,240, an increase of 113 in the same period.