As fears grow over the global spread of Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday that the number of deaths recorded during the latest outbreak has risen above 4,000.
The Geneva-based U.N. agency said that 4,033 people have died in the outbreak, all but nine of them in the three worst-affected countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
The WHO said that, as of the end of Wednesday, a total of 8,399 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola had been reported from seven countries.
That figure rose this week as seven people were admitted to a Spanish hospital unit monitoring possible Ebola cases where nurse assistant Teresa Romero, the first person to contract the deadly virus outside West Africa, remained seriously ill Friday.
With recriminations growing in Spain over how Romero became infected at a Madrid hospital, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said it was extremely unlikely that the virus would spread in Spain.
“Our first priority is Teresa Romero — she is the only person that we know has the illness,” he told reporters on the steps of the specially-adapted Carlos III hospital.
A hospital spokeswoman said 14 people, including Romero’s husband, were now under observation or being treated.
The seven new admissions late Thursday included two hairdressers who had given Romero a beauty treatment before she was diagnosed, and hospital staff who had treated the 44-year-old nurse after she was admitted Monday.
All had come voluntarily to be monitored for signs of the virus, although none of the 14 has so far tested positive for Ebola except Romero.
Rajoy said he had set up a committee headed by the deputy prime minister to handle the crisis, five days after news first broke of Romero's infection. Romero was infected in the hospital as she treated two Spanish missionaries who had caught the hemorrhagic fever in West Africa. She remained undiagnosed for days despite reporting her symptoms.
Concern has risen elsewhere in Europe after Macedonia said it was checking for Ebola in a British man who died there on Thursday, but authorities said it was unlikely he had the disease. A Prague hospital was testing a 56-year-old Czech man with symptoms of the virus.
In Latin America, doctors in Brazil were testing a West African man for Ebola on Friday, although the health ministry said the patient was "in good shape" and his slight fever has subsided.
Health Minister Arthur Chioro said the 47-year-old man arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Sept. 19 from Guinea. Chioro noted that the patient had been in Brazil for the maximum incubation period of 21 days. The result of a test for the virus should be available by early Saturday, he said.
"We could not rule out [Ebola], even though it had been 20 days, given the fever and the patient's origin," Chioro told journalists.
Ebola causes hemorrhagic fever, with symptoms including vomiting and diarrhea. It spreads through direct contact with body fluids.
Ebola has so far apparently spared Asia. Shin Young-soo, the WHO’s regional director, said Friday that the region is at risk, especially with its trade and transport hubs and armies of migrant workers. But he said the region is improving its defenses and may be more ready than other areas to respond if cases are diagnosed. Shin said the region has been a "hotspot" for emerging diseases in the past. As a result, he said, Asia has learned how to be prepared for epidemics.
An outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, began in southern China in 2002 and infected about 8,000 people worldwide, killing nearly 800.
Shin said member countries are putting up strong infrastructure preparedness for Ebola and each has an emergency operating center linked to the regional office in Manila and the WHO headquarters in Geneva.
"We have global hubs like Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Philippines — sending a lot of work forces all over the world," which makes it a possibility for the virus to reach East Asia, Shin said. But "we are in a better shape than other regions," he added.