Ebola update: 50 new Ebola cases in 2 African nations; MSF doctor: ‘For some, Ebola is akin to magic’

Health workers in Kenema, Sierra Leone, take blood samples to test for the Ebola virus at a screening tent in a local government hospital

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. health agency says there have been 50 new Ebola cases in Sierra Leone and Liberia since last week as the disease, among the deadliest in the world, keeps spreading in West Africa.

The World Health Organization says 34 new cases were reported by Sierra Leone and 16 by Liberia since July 3.

WHO officials said in a statement Tuesday the outbreak in those two countries and Guinea shows “a mixed picture” because of a reduction in the number of new cases in Guinea, where no new cases have been reported during the past week.

The agency says as of Sunday, there have been 844 cases of Ebola in the three countries, including 518 deaths.

Related: From an interview with two MSF doctors (Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders)

Why is the epidemic so difficult to control?

Michel Van Herp: Lack of knowledge about Ebola, the high mobility of people in this area, and the wide geographic spread of cases all combine together to make it difficult to control this epidemic.

It is the first time that Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have had to deal with the Ebola virus. People are afraid and find it difficult to believe that the disease even exists.Certain villagers close to Guéckédou [in Guinea] have even accused MSF of bringing the disease in to their area. One villager asked us: “Our ancestors never spoke about this disease, so why would this have changed today?”
With a mortality rate as high as 90%, when people hear of Ebola, they immediately think of death.This generates intense levels of fear, and for some people here, Ebola is perceived as something akin to magic.

They believe that to say “Ebola” aloud is to make it appear, with the reverse also believed to be true – denying that Ebola exists would mean that it won’t be able to affect you. This fear and superstition is understandable if you think about how patients with cancer in western societies sometimes cope…