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Sierra Leone's Chief Ebola Doctor Contracts Deadly Virus after Saving Hundreds from Worst Disease Outbreak

( [email protected] ) Jul 23, 2014 08:10 PM EDT
The lead doctor fighting Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak has become infected with the virus himself, the country’s government has revealed. The deadly virus has claimed hundreds of lives across Southern Africa this year alone, as it has a 90% mortality rate when contracted.
Sheik Umar Khan, head doctor fighting the deadly tropical virus Ebola in Sierra Leone, poses for a picture in Freetown, June 25, 2014. (Reuters)

An African doctor hailed as a "national hero" by the health ministry for his efforts against the tropical Ebola virus has contracted the deadly disease himself.

39-year-old  virologist Sheik Umar Khan, who has treated over 100 Ebola victims, was leading the fight to control an outbreak that has killed 206 people in the West African country of Sierra Leone when he became infected, the Telegraph reports.

According to the World Health Organization, 632 people have died from the illness across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone this year alone. There is no known cure for Ebola, which has a 90% mortality rate.

The Associated Press reports that Dr. Khan has been transferred to a treatment ward run by medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, and his current condition is unknown.

Health Minister Miatta Kargbo has said she would "do anything and everything in my power to ensure [Khan] survives," calling him a "national hero."

The news has shocked the medical community, as colleagues of Khan said the doctor was "always meticulous with protection, wearing overalls, mask, gloves and special footwear."

Ebola Outbreak in Africa
Health workers carry the body of an Ebola virus victim in Kenema, Sierra Leone, June 25, 2014. (Reuters)

In late June, Khan told Rueters that he was "always careful" when around the virus. In fact, he had installed a mirror in his office, which he called his "policeman", to check for holes or exposure before entering an isolation ward.

However, the doctor knew exposing himself in such close proximity to the virus put him at extreme risk.

"I am afraid for my life, I must say, because I cherish my life," he told Reuters.  

"Health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first port of call for somebody who is sickened by disease. Even with the full protective clothing you put on, you are at risk."

The virus previously also claimed the lives of three nurses working in the same Ebola treatment center alongside Dr Khan three days ago.

TIME Magazine reports that the Ebola outbreak started in Guinea's remote southeast in February and has since spread across the region.

In response to the outbreak, Christian humanitarian organization Samaritan's Purse has deployed a team of medical personnel to provide direct clinical care to those infected with the disease around Southern Africa.

"This is one of the most deadly diseases in the world, and it must be contained as quickly as possible," Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham said. "We want to do all we can to help bring this outbreak under control."