Clashes in Liberia after troops enforce slum quarantine amid Ebola fears

World Health Organization says death toll from West African outbreak has risen to at least 1,350

Clashes erupted in a Monrovia neighborhood Wednesday after Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a curfew and ordered security forces to quarantine a slum in the capital as the West African country battles to stop the spread of Ebola.

Angry young men threw rocks and stormed barricades, trying to break out of the neighborhood, West Point, according to The New York Times. The Times reported that soldiers forced back the crowd with live rounds.

The curfew in Liberia came as authorities said three health workers in the country who received an experimental drug for the disease are showing signs of recovery, though medical experts caution it is not certain if the drug is effective.

At least 1,350 people have died of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria in the current outbreak, according to figures released Wednesday by the World Health Organization (WHO).

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Authorities have struggled to treat and isolate the sick in the worst outbreak of the disease since it was first identified in 1976. The problem has been worsened by widespread fears that treatment centers are places where people go to die.

Johnson Sirleaf announced late on Tuesday that a curfew will be in effect from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Security forces will be ensuring no one goes into or out of West Point, where angry residents attacked an Ebola observation center over the weekend.

"We have been unable to control the spread due to continued denials, cultural burying practices, disregard for the advice of health workers and disrespect for the warnings by the government," she said. "As a result and due to the large population concentration, the disease has spread widely in Monrovia and environs."

Saturday's attack on the observation center in West Point was triggered by fears that people with the disease were being taken there from all over the country, the Information Ministry said on Tuesday. Dozens of people waiting to be screened for Ebola fled the center during the chaos. Looters made off with items such as bloody sheets and mattresses that could further spread the virus, which is transmitted through body fluids.

Liberia's Information Minister Lewis Brown said on Tuesday that the 17 suspected Ebola-infected patients who fled have been found and placed in treatment centers. He added that three infected African doctors who received the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp were showing "remarkable signs of improvement," quoting an assessment by the doctor overseeing their treatment.

Liberian authorities are searching for a pastor who ran away from a different Ebola treatment center outside Monrovia. State radio asked the public to look out for him but did not say whether he tested positive for Ebola.

The WHO said it is seeing some encouraging signs in other parts of West Africa. In Guinea, people from villages that previously rejected outside help were beginning to seek medical care, according to a WHO statement. The statement said the situation is "less alarming" in Guinea than in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The WHO also said that while "the outbreak is not under control," there is "cautious optimism" that the spread of the virus in Nigeria can be stopped. Late on Tuesday, health authorities there announced a fifth Ebola death — a doctor who treated a man who flew to Nigeria from Liberia while infected. So far, all recorded cases have been linked to that man.

Elsewhere, a patient admitted to Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center in California is undergoing tests for the Ebola virus. The Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that it will take several days to get the results from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is testing the patient’s blood sample. 

Ebola in Sierra Leone

In Sierra Leone, health officials told Agence France-Presse that the Ebola outbreak in their country may have begun with an herbalist in the remote eastern border village of Sokoma.

"She was claiming to have powers to heal Ebola. Cases from Guinea were crossing into Sierra Leone for treatment," said Mohamed Vandi, the top medical official in the hard-hit district of Kenema.

"She got infected and died. During her funeral, women around the other towns got infected."

The herbalist's mourners reportedly fanned out across the rolling hills of the Kissi tribal chiefdoms, starting a chain reaction of infections, deaths, funerals and more infections.

In Sierra Leone, a worrying outbreak turned into an epidemic when the virus hit the city of Kenema on June 17.

An ethnically diverse city of 190,000, Kenema already had the highest incidence of Lassa fever — another viral hemorrhagic disease — in the world.

But the brutality and cold efficiency of the Ebola virus — described in medical literature as a molecular shark — caught the city's shabby, chaotic hospital off guard.

Crumpled photographs of dead nurses cover bulletin boards on the flaking walls outside the maternity unit and in the administration block. Twelve nurses have been among 277 people to die since the first case showed up in the Kenema hospital. Ten others have been infected with Ebola and survived.

"The nurses who lost their lives and those who got infected would never have gone in knowing that they would get infected," said Vandi. "We are fighting a battle that is new. Ebola is new here, and we are all learning as we go along."

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