Liberia orders Ebola victims' bodies to be cremated

The BBC's Tulip Mazumdar witnessed the burial of an Ebola patient

Liberia's government has ordered that all bodies of people killed by the Ebola virus must be cremated.

The decision follows the refusal of some communities to allow the burial of Ebola victims on their land.

Meanwhile, Nigeria says it has a second Ebola case - that of one of the doctors who treated a man who died from Ebola after his arrival from Liberia.

This year's outbreak, the worst ever, has centred on Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, killing 887 people.

It spreads by contact with infected blood and bodily fluids - and touching the body of someone who has died of Ebola is particularly dangerous.

Nigeria's Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said that 70 people have been traced who came into contact with the man who died there, Patrick Sawyer, eight of whom are now in isolation.

Sawyer, an employee of the Liberian finance ministry, had arrived in Lagos from Monrovia after changing planes in Togo's capital, Lome, on 20 July and died five days later in quarantine.

As part of efforts to help contain the outbreak, the US says it is planning to send at least 50 public health experts within the next 30 days.

Liberians in Johnsonville outside Monrovia protest about the burial of Ebola victims' bodies There were protests over the weekend about the burial of Ebola victims
Tap buckets for sale in Monrovia, Liberia There has been a boom in the sale of tap buckets in Monrovia

There is no cure or vaccine for Ebola - but patients have a better chance of survival if they receive early treatment.

The current outbreak is killing between 50% and 60% of people infected.

Initial flu-like symptoms can lead to external haemorrhaging from areas like eyes and gums, and internal bleeding which can lead to organ failure.

Hand-washing warning

The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh in the capital, Monrovia, says cremation is not part of the culture in Liberia and health experts say burial ceremonies have played a role in the transmission of the virus.

Liberia's Information Minister Lewis Brown made the announcement on state radio about cremations after an incident over the weekend when a community refused to allow the burial of some bodies, most of them Ebola victims.

The current outbreak is the deadliest since Ebola was discovered in 1976

Thirty-four bodies were buried but the protests meant 12 were left out in the open for a day until it was decided to cremate them on Sunday, Deputy Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah told the BBC.

Mr Brown also warned that businesses that did not install hand-washing facilities would be shut down.

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Ebola virus disease (EVD)
Coloured transmission electron micro graph of a single Ebola virus, the cause of Ebola fever
  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Fatality rate can reach 90%
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats are considered to be virus' natural host
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Our reporter says the call for hand washing as part of the preventive measures has led to a boom in the sale of tap buckets in Monrovia.

On Friday, Margaret Chan, head of the World Health Organization, met the leaders of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to launch a new $100m (£59m) Ebola response plan and said the virus could be stopped if well managed.

In Sierra Leone, the army is in the process of deploying to the east of the country to help health officials quarantine areas affected by Ebola.

Code-named Operation Octopus, the deployment, which includes military doctors and nurses, began on Sunday and is expected to take three days.

According to new UN figures, 826 people have died of the virus in West Africa since February - up from the figure of 729 people recorded on 27 July.

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Ebola since 1976
Graphic showing Ebola virus outbreaks since 1976
A map showing Ebola outbreaks since 1976

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