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WHO: New Ebola fears mount in Nigeria

DAKAR, Senegal — An ill doctor in southern Nigeria exposed dozens of people to the Ebola virus by continuing to treat patients before his death, the World Health Organization said Wednesday as it announced the toll across West Africa had surged above 1,900 fatalities.

Officials in Nigeria had believed that Ebola was largely contained within Africa’s most populous country after a sick traveler from Liberia brought the disease to Lagos. However, a man who had had contact with the ill visitor later traveled to the oil hub of Port Harcourt, where he triggered a second cluster of cases.

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A Port Harcourt doctor and another patient there are now dead, and the doctor’s widow and sister are ill with Ebola. About 60 other people are under surveillance after having ‘‘high-risk’’ or ‘‘very high-risk’’ contact with the infected doctor, WHO said. About 140 others are also being monitored.

‘‘Given these multiple high-risk exposure opportunities, the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Port Harcourt has the potential to grow larger and spread faster than the one in Lagos,’’ WHO warned.

Nigeria’s health minister has said there is no reason for people in Port Harcourt to panic.

The UN health agency, though, said it feared civil unrest and public fear of Ebola could further the crisis, saying ‘‘military escorts are needed for movements into the isolation and treatment center.’’

Nigeria’s Ebola toll so far has been limited in comparison to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, where hundreds have died in each country. Nigerian authorities say five people have died in Lagos, and the doctor in Port Harcourt and the other fatality there bring the national toll to seven.

The man who infected the Port Harcourt doctor was later found after a four-day search and is recovering.

WHO said Wednesday that the physician continued to see patients after the onset of Ebola symptoms and even operated on two people. Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, and health authorities say patients are only contagious once they show symptoms.

‘‘Prior to hospitalization, the physician had numerous contacts with the community, as relatives and friends visited his home to celebrate the birth of a baby,’’ WHO said.

‘‘Once hospitalized, he again had numerous contacts with the community, as members of his church visited to perform a healing ritual said to involve the laying on of hands. During his six-day period of hospitalization, he was attended by the majority of the hospital’s health care staff.’’

The announcement from WHO did not specify whether the health care staff wore gloves or other protective gear when treating him.

Getting protective gear to health workers in the affected areas and ensuring that they receive hazard pay are top priorities for fighting the crisis, said Dr. David Nabarro, who is coordinating the UN response to the outbreak.

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