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Senegal Is Fifth West African Nation Hit With Ebola


A fifth country in West Africa is now confronting the Ebola virus. It's Senegal. At a hospital in that country's capital, Dakar, a 21-year-old student tested positive for the virus. The student is from Guinea, 1 of the 4 other countries already dealing with an outbreak.

Now a dangerous waiting game begins to see if the virus has spread to other people in Senegal and if so, to how many. Already the World Health Organization is calling the first confirmed case in Senegal, quote, "a top priority emergency." And let's talk about this now with Krista Larson of the Associated Press. She is in Senegal's capital, Dakar. Krista, good morning.

KRISTA LARSON: Good morning.

GREENE: So tell me what we know about this student and his condition.

LARSON: What we have heard from the World Health Organization authorities is that he apparently arrived in Senegal on August 20, the day before Senegal closed its land border with Guinea. He apparently had had several relatives who had been sickened with Ebola. He was in the country for about three days before he sought medical treatment. It took a few more days before he ended up in quarantine isolation.

GREENE: How's he doing?

LARSON: Our understanding is that his condition has improved and that he's quite stable at the moment. Of course information is limited, but all indications are at this point that it's an isolated case and that if they're able to track down and observe the other people, we should see a situation more like the one in Nigeria where it's been fairly contained to people who have had direct contact with either the patient or his immediate health care providers.

GREENE: You say track down other people. I'm just doing the math here; you normally have to wait 21 days to see if symptoms show up in other people...

LARSON: Right.

GREENE: ...So we're still at the point now where they are trying to track down people he might've come in contact with?

LARSON: Yes, at this point, it's our understanding they believe that they have reached each of the individuals who had direct contact with him at the health care clinic and at the hospital. It's not clear whether they were been able to locate all of his fellow passengers in transit from Guinea to Senegal and anyone he may have interacted with outside his immediate family during the several days he spent in a Dakar suburb.

GREENE: You mention Nigeria. That's a country where there's a lot of fear that someone, you know, brought the virus, was confirmed, an air traveler. And so far it appears that that country was able to contain this. Is that the best hope right now for Senegal? Is there some optimism that this is not going to become a huge outbreak?

LARSON: I think there is a lot of optimism because the health care infrastructure in Senegal is much superior to that of health care facilities in some of the other countries we've seen affected. Clearly the fact that this young man was here for several days before he was put into isolation is worrisome. But they do have the resources and put a substantial effort into finding these individuals. The best-case scenario of this is that it will be limited.

GREENE: You say optimism in general; I just wondered how people you speak to are reacting to this. In other countries, we saw a lot of fear, a lot of rumors about how this virus could or could not be spread, sort of treatments that may or may not work. Is that starting there already?

LARSON: Well, I think the Senegalese have been closely watching what's been happening in neighboring nations. There's been a certain sense of fear, inevitability that it could come here from Guinea because of the shared border. People here are fairly well-educated about how it spreads, but there is still a fair degree of alarm, particularly among people who take public transport and are in close proximity to other people. The virus, as we know, is only spread through direct contact with bodily fluids, but there is of course a fair amount of apprehension just given the gruesome nature of the disease and its high fatality rate.

GREENE: Why is the World Health Organization already calling this a top priority emergency? That sounds very ominous.

LARSON: Well, Senegal is a regional hub for all kinds of things, including transport. And I think the fear is that if it comes here, that it could become further entrenched and spread both within the region and possibly abroad. Certainly they're trying to limit the number of countries that are affected, and the appearance of a case in the fifth country is obviously quite worrisome.

GREENE: All right, we've been speaking to Krista Larson; she is the West Africa correspondent for the Associated Press, talking about a confirmed case of Ebola in Senegal. The fifth country in West Africa where the virus has shown up. Krista, thanks very much.

LARSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.