Ebola is 'just a plane ride away' from the USA, as outbreak spreads in West Africa

Reuters/Tommy Trenchar.

Reuters/Tommy Trenchar.

The West African nation of Liberia closed most border crossings and mandated strict health measures to try and stem the Ebola virus outbreak that has killed at least 660 people in West Africa since February, and continues to spread.

Disease screening centers are being set up at the remaining entry points, including Liberia's main airport.

The BBC reports that 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."

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are struggling to control the spread of the deadly virus. Communities in which Ebola cases have been found face quarantine.

The current outbreak is the worst ever known. If Ebola is not contained in West Africa, experts say, it can and will spread to other parts of the world.

As this USA Today graphic shows, the virus is "just a plane ride away from the USA," though the risk of a similar outbreak here is not considered high at this time.

The CDC today announced it has sent an alert to health care providers here to help them identify symptoms of the disease.

From USA Today:

Health experts at the CDC have been working with African nations since the Ebola outbreak began in March. But officials are on alert now, after news that a man with Ebola was able to board a plane and arrive in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria. He later died.

Two Americans providing humanitarian assistance in West Africa have become infected with Ebola. Family members of one of them, Kent Brantly, a doctor, had been living with him in Africa, but returned to the USA before he began showing symptoms. To be careful, however, the family is on a "21-day fever watch," in which they are being asked to monitor themselves for symptoms, says Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the CDC's national center for emerging and zoonotic infectious diseases.

In the New York Times, a story on some of the factors that make the outbreak so difficult to control in the region. Groups like Doctors Without Borders who are treating the disease are seen by some local people as being responsible for the disease. Many trust traditional healers and priests instead, and see international medical aid groups like MSF as the enemy.

Health workers here say they are now battling two enemies: the unprecedented Ebola epidemic, which has killed more than 660 people in four countries since it was first detected in March, and fear, which has produced growing hostility toward outside help. On Friday alone, health authorities in Guinea confirmed 14 new cases of the disease.

Workers and officials, blamed by panicked populations for spreading the virus, have been threatened with knives, stones and machetes, their vehicles sometimes surrounded by hostile mobs. Log barriers across narrow dirt roads block medical teams from reaching villages where the virus is suspected. Sick and dead villagers, cut off from help, are infecting others.

“This is very unusual, that we are not trusted,” said Marc Poncin, the emergency coordinator in Guinea for Doctors Without Borders, the main group fighting the disease here. “We’re not stopping the epidemic.”