LAGOS, Nigeria — A total of eight people in Nigeria who were in direct contact with a man who flew to Lagos and died of Ebola now have symptoms of the dreaded and deadly disease and have been placed into quarantine, a Nigerian health official said Tuesday.
Of the eight, only a doctor who treated the traveller has so far tested positive for Ebola. The others are being tested, with results pending, said Lagos state health health commissioner Jide Idris.
The official death toll for the worst-ever outbreak for the disease stood on Monday at 887, according to the World Health Organization. Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have been affected much more severely than Nigeria, which has experienced only one death. Though as Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria poses a grave risk of the disease catching on like wildfire.
Most of the people in quarantine had made contact in a hospital in Lagos with Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, Idris told reporters. Sawyer died on July 25, five days after arriving in Nigeria.
Others may have been infected in Lagos, a city with a population of about 21 million, before doctors suspected that Sawyer had Ebola. They put him in isolation about 24 hours after he arrived at the hospital.
“At that point in time, especially the first day, the nature of the disease was not known,” said Idris.
During that window of time, it’s possible more people got infected, he said as he defended the actions of health authorities.
“If they knew his history they probably would have taken better precautions,” he said.
The eight quarantined people, who include the doctor, are among 14 who had “serious direct contact” with Sawyer, most of them at the hospital, Idris said. Authorities are following the conditions of a total of 70 people who had primary contact with Sawyer, and now they are tracking the secondary contacts of the eight people in quarantine, Idris said.
He said volunteers are needed to track down all the people who potential carriers of the disease had been in contact with.
The West African outbreak of Ebola started in March.