TIME Infectious Disease

Here’s What You Need to Know Now About the Ebola Crisis

After a passenger brought Ebola to Africa’s largest city, health officials are on alert for signs of the infection among passengers. Here's the latest

The Ebola outbreak has already led to more than 670 deaths in western Africa, but a man who became ill on a flight from Liberia to Lagos, Africa’s largest city, has raised alarms for public health officials after he later died of the virus.

Liberia has closed most of its borders, and airports in Nigeria are now screening passengers arriving from foreign countries for Ebola’s symptoms, which include fever, headache, joint pain, lack of appetite, difficult breathing and sore throat. In its advanced stages, Ebola leads to diarrhea, vomiting and internal bleeding. While the airport screenings are meant to ease travelers’ minds, the reality is that the Ebola virus can’t be detected soon after infection—the first signs of the virus are red eyes and a rash, which could be caused by many different things. Plus, outgoing flyers are not being tested and its unclear at this point if over countries will follow suit. People have recovered from infection with the virus, but the mortality rate ranges from 50% to 90%.

MORE: Here’s What It Will Take to Contain the Worst Ebola Outbreak in History

Who can spread the virus?

The virus takes anywhere from two to 21 days to incubate and start causing symptoms, but Dr. Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said during a telebriefing Monday that infected patients only spread the disease when they have symptoms. Because the virus is transmitted through direct contact with fluids like saliva or blood from infected patients, airport officials are essentially looking for passengers who might have severe vomiting, diarrhea or other bodily secretions that could reach other travelers.

Are Nigeria’s airport screenings enough?

Nigeria is screening incoming passengers for such symptoms, and may also take passengers’ temperature. Nigerian officials have also created holding rooms to isolate patients or passengers who are suspected of being infected, so they can be triaged to further medical care.

But because some of the early symptoms of Ebola mirror those of other ailments, including malaria, CDC officials say the strongest way to contain spread of infectious diseases is by instituting travel restrictions at the source. That’s why Liberia has closed all of its borders except for three land crossings where travelers can be screened and treatment services provided if needed.

Dr. Marty Cetrone, director of the division of global migration and quarantine at the U.S. CDC, said during the briefing that officials can also try to contain the outbreak by using questionnaires asking travelers at these checkpoints about their recent travel history as well as their potential exposure to the virus through friends or other close contacts.

How did this outbreak get so bad?

Health officials aren’t sure why this particular outbreak has led to a historic number of deaths, but note that social and cultural practices may be driving spread of the virus. In many of the communities where the virus remains active, there is still denial about the disease, and stigma associated with getting ill, which discourages patients from getting early hydration and nutrition that can help them to overcome the infection. While there is no treatment for the virus, these measures can lower the death rate for some. Funeral practices that involve touching the deceased may also help the virus move from host to host.

How at-risk are Americans?

Monroe says that the risk of Ebola for U.S. citizens who haven’t traveled to west Africa remains low. There are no restrictions on travelers entering the U.S., but the CDC has issued a Level 2 travel advisory for people traveling to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone, recommending that they avoid contact with blood or other bodily fluids that might contain the virus, and use the proper protective equipment to avoid infection. The advisory applies mostly to health care or humanitarian aid workers, who so far make up the largest group of people affected by Ebola. “[Transmission] involves not only touching the contaminated body fluid but introducing it through some mucous membrane or cut on the skin,” said Monroe.

For anyone who has recently traveled to those countries or might have been exposed to someone who was ill in that area, health officials are advising a 21 day fever watch, to ensure that no active infection is occurring.

What if an infected person flies into the U.S.?

CDC is also preparing for the remote possibility that a passenger from the region who is ill boards a plane and lands in the U.S. and starts infecting residents. The agency is informing its network of physicians in state and local public health facilities about how to look for signs of Ebola. “We are sending Health Alert Network notices about the importance of taking steps to prevent spread of the virus,” said Monroe. That includes procedures on asking patients about their recent travel history, as well as using the proper personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves and gowns if they suspect an Ebola infection.

They’re confident that these measures will be effective, since infection with a virus related to Ebola, Marburg, was successfully contained in the Netherlands with isolation and barrier procedures. No healthcare workers contracted the virus from that patient. Health officials hope that with the proper preparation and education, that record can apply to Ebola as well, if it makes it beyond the heavily affected countries in west Africa.

TIME infectious diseases

Liberia Closes Borders to Curb Ebola Outbreak

Ebola in Liberia
Liberian health workers in protective gear on the way to bury a woman who died of the Ebola virus from the isolation unit in Foya, Lofa County, Liberia on July 2, 2014. Ahmed Jallanzo—EPA

Outbreak is already the largest on record

The Liberian government closed off most of the country’s border crossings Sunday in an effort to curb an Ebola outbreak that has already killed over 670 people across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and become the largest outbreak of the virus on record.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said the airport will remain open, but that all travelers coming in and out will be tested for the virus, Reuters reports. “All borders of Liberia will be closed with the exception of major entry points,” she said. “At these entry points, preventive and testing centers will be established, and stringent preventive measures to be announced will be scrupulously adhered to.”

Ebola kills around 90% of those who contract it, although the current outbreak has only killed around 60%. Numerous medical personnel have succumbed to the most recent outbreak, including Dr. Samuel Brisbane, one of Liberia’s most high-profile doctors, who died Saturday.

Two Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol, have contracted the virus and are currently in stable condition, NBC reports. Both worked for North Carolina-based aid group Samaritan’s Purse, and spokeswoman Melissa Strickland said that they are both “alert.”

Brantly and Writebol had followed all CDC and WHO guidelines and worn full protective equipment when treating Ebola patients, including gloves, goggles, face protection, and full body coverings, Strickland said.

Since Ebola is highly contagious, Liberia has also restricted public gatherings such as marches and demonstrations until the outbreak is brought under control. “No doubt, the Ebola virus is a national health problem,” President Sirleaf said in a statement. “And as we have also begun to see, it attacks our way of life, with serious economic and social consequences.”

TIME Terrorism

Boko Haram Kidnaps Wife of Cameroon’s Deputy Prime Minister

Third attack since 22 militants were sentenced to prison in Cameroon Friday

Over 200 Nigerian Boko Haram militants attacked a town in northern Cameroon Sunday, kidnapping the wife of Cameroon’s deputy Prime Minister and killing at least 3 people, Cameroon officials told Reuters.

Deputy Prime Minister Amadou Ali had been at home with his family in Kolofata Sunday to celebrate the Ramadan fast when his wife and her maid were kidnapped in what government officials call a “savage attack.”

The militants also kidnapped the mayor of Kolofata (who is a religious leader) in a separate attack on the town, as well as five of his family members.

Government spokesman Issa Tchiroma confirmed to Reuters that Boko Haram militants had attacked the Ali’s home in Kolofata. “They unfortunately took away his wife,” he said.

The attack on Kolofata was the third Boko Haram attack since 22 Boko Haram militants were sentenced to prison Friday in Maroua, a major city in the northern part of the country. At least four soldiers were killed in the other two attacks over the weekend.

Boko Haram opposes Western education and seeks to create an Islamist separatist state in northern Nigeria. They kidnapped over 200 girls from a boarding school in April and threatened to “sell them on the market.” The girls have not yet been returned.

[Reuters]

TIME infectious diseases

Ebola Virus Suspected in Lagos, Nigeria

Members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) put on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, Guinea on July 23, 2014.
Members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) put on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, Guinea on July 23, 2014. Cellou Binani—AFP/Getty Images

Samples have been sent to the WHO for testing

The deadly Ebola virus that has killed hundreds across West Africa may have hit Africa’s most populous city, according to a Thursday statement from the country’s ministry of health.

Officials in Lagos, Nigeria are testing a Liberian man after he collapsed at the city’s airport displaying symptoms of the disease. Government representatives also expressed concern because the man worked and lived in Liberia where the disease is prevalent. Blood samples have been sent to the World Health Organization to be tested.

The virus has spread rapidly since an outbreak earlier this year, and health organizations have said they are struggling to control its spread.

In a statement, Nigerian health officials asked that residents “remain calm and take appropriate measures for the prevention and control of the disease.” These prevention measures include avoiding contact with people or animals suspected of having the disease.

While the outbreak has killed hundreds already in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, it could be especially damaging if it hit Lagos, an urban center with a population of 21 million.

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Displaces 15,000 Nigerians After Civilian Massacre

The Islamic insurgency slaughtered dozens of civilians and has taken control of a strategic area in Nigeria

The insurgent Islamist group Boko Haram raided an army base in northeast Nigeria and massacred around 50 civilians in nearby villages over the weekend, filling a power vacuum in the region after the evacuation of Nigerian troops.

Recent attacks on villages in the region have killed 50 civilians and driven out 15,000 people, Reuters reports, further evidence that international efforts to tackle the Islamist group after its kidnapping of 200 girls earlier this year has failed to curb its violent activities.

The group now can move freely in a region with a major highway linking the northern and southern districts of Borno, bordering Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Boko Haram is pursing a scorched earth policy, security sources tell Reuters, driving out authorities who do not support their effort to create an Islamic state.

The five-year old insurgent group achieved global notoriety in April when its fighters kidnapped more than 200 girls from a school in the northeastern village of Chibok in April. So far, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been unable to retrieve them.

[Reuters]

TIME U.S. Department of Agriculture

Giant African Snails Seized at Los Angeles Airport

Giant Snails Seized
This photo provided by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows a person using two hands to hold a single snail from an air cargo shipment of 67 live snails that arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on July 1, 2014. Officials said that the 35 pounds of snails arrived from Nigeria along with paperwork stating they were for human consumption. Greg Bartman—AP

The U.S. Department of Agriculture incinerated a package of 67 giant snails from Nigeria that inspectors seized from the Los Angeles National Airport because the snails are prohibited in the U.S.

(LOS ANGELES) — Inspectors at Los Angeles International Airport seized an unusually slimy package — 67 live giant African snails that are a popular delicacy across West Africa.

The snails — which are prohibited in the U.S. — arrived from Nigeria and were being sent to a person in San Dimas, said Lee Harty, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border protection.

The snails were confiscated July 1 and a sample was sent the next day to a federal mollusk specialist in Washington, D.C., who identified them as a prohibited species, Harty said.

The mollusks are among the largest land snails in the world and can grow to be up to 8 inches long. They are native to Africa and can live for up to 10 years.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture incinerated the snails after they were inspected, Harty said. The animals are prohibited in the U.S. because they can carry parasites that are harmful to humans, including one that can lead to meningitis.

The snails are also agricultural pests, said Maveeda Mirza, the CBP program manager for agriculture.

“These snails are seriously harmful to local plants because they will eat any kind of crop they can get to,” Mirza said.

The person the snails were destined for is not expected to face any penalties, Mirza said. She said authorities are investigating why a single person would want so many snails.

“We’re investigating what happened, but it doesn’t seem like there was smuggling involved. When someone doesn’t know a commodity is prohibited under USDA regulations there is usually no punishment,” she said.

Although the agency has found one or two snails that may have accidentally gotten into a traveler’s luggage in Los Angeles, this is the first time that they have confiscated the snails in such a large quantity, Mirza said.

TIME Nigeria

All Malala Wants for Her Birthday Is Safe Return for Boko Haram Girls

Calls kidnapped girls her "sisters" during visit to Nigeria

+ READ ARTICLE

Girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai met Sunday with parents of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the militant group Boko Haram and pledged again to fight for their safe release.

“I can see those girls as my sisters… and I’m going to speak up for them until they are released,” she told a crowd of parents, Reuters reports. “I can feel… the circumstances under which you are suffering. It’s quite difficult for a parent to know that their daughter is in great danger.

“My birthday wish this year is… bring back our girls now, and alive,” she added.

More than 200 schoolgirls have been missing since they were abducted by Islamist terror group Boko Haram on April 14 as they were preparing to take exams near Chibok, in the northeast region of the country. In the months since the abduction, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been unable to secure their release amid widespread international focus, even as Boko Haram leaders threatened to “sell them in the market.”

Malala, who became renowned as an international advocate for girls’ education after she survived a Taliban assassination attempt, is scheduled to meet with the Nigerian leader on Monday. She turned 17 on Saturday.

TIME Soccer

Nowhere to Go: Chronicling Soccer’s Human Trafficking Problem

Photographer Jason Andrew's "Black Diamonds" reveals the sordid underbelly of the world's most popular sport in Turkey and West Africa

Every four years, the World Cup draws unparalleled attention to soccer and its stars — the “beautiful game” played on its grandest stage for all to see. Far less attention is minded to those whose passion for the game has led to their exploitation.

In his series of photographs “Black Diamonds,” Jason Andrew chronicles the human trafficking of African soccer players from Nigeria to Istanbul by an assortment of scouts and unlicensed agents. These young athletes, largely under-informed and uneducated, are promised the opportunity to realize their dreams of becoming soccer stars — if their impoverished families are willing to pay fees that can exceed $5,000 to send them to Turkey. But instead of using their time in Turkey to kickstart successful soccer careers in top-tier European leagues, the players are typically abandoned shortly after their arrival and forced to fend for themselves in a harsh and unforgiving land.

Since 2011, Andrew has followed the journeys of these young men, many of whom end up destitute and desperate for whatever work they are able to find. Some have returned home to West Africa, more have remained in Turkey, sharing apartments and jobs with others lured north under false pretenses, but very few have found even a fraction of the glory and riches once promised.

The problem is a growing one. Jean Claude Mbvoumin of the Foot Solidaire group, a charity whose goal is to protect young African soccer players, estimated that as many as 15,000 soccer-playing African youths were emigrating under what can only be described as the falsest of pretenses, and that number shows no sign of shrinking. Nearly every day more of these young players arrive in Turkey, just as their predecessors’ visas expire.

“Black Diamonds” highlights a few of these exploited players, tracking their attempts to fulfill the dreams that had once been promised them — the same dreams that others have been living at this summer’s World Cup. For these exploited soccer players, however, the path forward is far less certain.

All photographs by Jason Andrew.

TIME Malaysia

Malaysia Is Becoming a Global Hub For Internet Scams Preying on the Lovelorn

IAC Will Turn Match Dating Service Into a Separate Business
The Match.com website is displayed on laptop computers arranged for a photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The ease of obtaining visas, opening bank accounts and arranging money transfers are all part of Malaysia's newfound criminal appeal.

Lax student visa regulations and a high-tech banking system has made Malaysia a global hub for Internet scams, according to U.S. officials, with money being swindled out of unwitting Americans and Europeans by racketeers prowling online dating sites.

The conmen typically hail from Nigeria or Ghana and dupe lonely, middle-aged men and women from the U.S. and Western Europe through matchmaking services like Match.com, reports Reuters. A dozen new cases are reported to the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur every week, with scam complaints forming four-fifths of new work for duty officers.

“This is a serious issue hurting many Americans financially and emotionally,” said a U.S. embassy spokesperson. “We would hope that through publicity more Americans would be made aware of these scams.”

While most Internet users have received — only to swiftly mock and discard — some crude Nigerian scam emails, these tricksters are more sophisticated, and slowly build trust as a budding romance ripens. Then the request for money comes, normally a relatively small amount at first; but once the hooks are in, the victim struggles to turn down subsequent heftier demands without admitting to having been hoodwinked.

“Some victims find it very hard to break away from the relationship, even when they’ve been told it’s not real,” says Professor Monica Whitty, an expert on Internet fraud psychology. “So the criminal admits to scamming the victim but says that they also fell in love with them at the same time, and they get back into the same scam.”

But it is not just lovelorn Americans who are being swindled; other foreign embassies in Kuala Lumpur are dealing with similar complaints, reports Reuters. Whitty says that at least 500,000 U.K. citizens have fallen prey to such “sweetheart scams” since the phenomenon was first reported around 2007.

Slightly more men than women are duped by fraudulent lovers, but men are less likely to seek recompense out of embarrassment.

“Some people mortgage their houses to pay these criminals,” Whitty says, “but often the devastation they feel is more about the loss of the relationship than the money — of realizing they’ve been duped.”

And worryingly, such scams appear to be growing more common; last year, U.S.-based IT security developer SOPHOS ranked Malaysia as sixth globally in terms of cyber crime threat risks, as the total cyber crime bill topped $300 million. The ease of obtaining visas, opening bank accounts and arranging money transfers are all part of the nation’s criminal appeal.

“Scammers are increasingly using targeted social engineering attacks against their victims due to the extremely high success rate,” Ty Miller, an Australian security expert and founder of Threat Intelligence, tells TIME. “This not only affects individuals, but also organizations.”

Awareness and technology are key to tackling this scourge, says Miller, who is running a fraud-prevention course in Kuala Lumpur in October. “Techniques can be deployed that allow malicious individuals to be tracked,” he says, “which as time goes on will build intelligence to unveil the identity of the perpetrators.”

Amirudin Abdul Wahab, CEO of CyberSecurity Malaysia, an agency under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, says all involved nations must share information and jointly investigate cases according to agreed procedures and technical processes.

“Various authorities from the various countries involved should work together rather than blaming each other,” he said by email. “These countries need to synergize their efforts, in order to effectively address this scam problem.”

TIME Africa

Report: More Than 60 Nigerian Girls Escape Boko Haram Captors

NIGERIA-UNREST-BLAST
People gather near burned vehicles by the crowded Monday Market in Maiduguri, Nigeria, on July 1, 2014 AFP—Getty Images

The daring escape comes after days of heavy fighting in northeast Nigeria

More than 60 girls and women kidnapped in northeast Nigeria last month by suspected Islamist militant group Boko Haram have reportedly fled their captors.

Their escape was confirmed to news agency AFP by a high-level though unnamed security source in the restive Borno state.

A local vigilante, Abbas Gava, also said he had “received an alert from my colleagues … that about 63 of the abducted women and girls had made it back home.”

More than 200 schoolgirls abducted in April are still being held by Boko Haram, which seeks to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in the country’s north.

The development follows Friday’s clashes between Nigerian soldiers and Boko Haram militants in Borno. At least 50 insurgents were killed as the Nigerian military repelled an attack on its military base in the town of Damboa, said the Defense Ministry on Saturday.

Six Nigerian soldiers, including the commanding officer, died during the fighting, said Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade.

An officer who requested anonymity told the AP that the raid appeared to be a reprisal attack by Boko Haram after the Nigerian military carried out devastating air strikes 24 hours earlier.

[AFP]

 

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser