Ebola death toll in tops 1,200 in W. Africa

Three Liberian health workers receiving an experimental drug for Ebola are showing signs of recovery, officials said Tuesday, though medical experts caution it is not certain if the drug is effective.

The patients are being treated with the last known doses of ZMapp, a drug that had earlier been given to two infected Americans and a Spaniard. The Americans are also improving, but the Spaniard has died.

“The medical professionals have informed the Liberian information ministry their progress is ‘remarkable,’” the ministry said in a statement, adding that the patients are showing “very positive signs of recovery.”

News of their improvement was tempered however as the World Health Organization announced 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 also spread to Germany Tuesday 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 suffering from an infectious illness of the stomach or intestine. But a blood test was being carried out to check for Ebola.

There is no licensed cure or vaccine for Ebola, which kills at least half of those infected.

Experts have said it is unclear if ZMapp, which had never before been tested in humans, is effective. Even if it is, the California-based maker has said more supplies won’t be available for months.

Experts say the best way to stop the spread of Ebola in West Africa is to identify the sick, isolate them from the healthy and monitor everyone with whom they have been in contact.

Authorities have struggled to treat and isolate the sick, in part because of widespread fear that treatment centers are places where people go to die. Many sick people have hidden in their homes, relatives have sometimes taken their loved ones away from health centers, and mobs have occasionally attacked health workers.

On Saturday, residents of the West Point slum in Liberia’s capital of Monrovia attacked a center where people were being monitored for Ebola. The raid was triggered by fears that people with the disease were being brought there from all over the country, the Information Ministry said Tuesday.

During the raid, dozens of people waiting to be screened for Ebola fled the center. Looters made off with items, including bloody sheets and mattresses that could spread the infection.

All the patients who fled are now being screened at a hospital in Monrovia, and those who tested positive are being treated, the ministry said. It was unclear how many of the 37 who fled were confirmed with Ebola. In addition, residents of the slum have agreed to return any stolen items, officials said.

Although the outbreak began in Guinea, Liberia has now recorded the highest number of deaths and Sierra Leone the most cases.

“The outbreak is not under control,” the WHO statement cautioned. “As recent experience shows, progress is fragile, with a real risk that the outbreak could experience another flare-up.”