Leading Ebola Doctor in Sierra Leone Catches Virus

The news of Dr. Sheik Umar Khan could severely impact the current outbreak in West Africa for better or worse. 

Posted: 07/24/2014 05:14 PM EDT

(Photo: REUTERS/Umaru Fofana)

A doctor heralded as a national hero for having recently treated over 100 Ebola patients in Sierra Leone has caught the deadly virus.

Thirty-nine year old Dr. Sheik Umar Khan spent the past several months working alongside those fighting against the deadliest and largest Ebola outbreak in history that has hit Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Now, he is receiving treatment at an isolation ward run by Doctor Without Borders, according to the Sierra Leone government.

"He is a very respected medical professional in the country," says Meredith Dyson, a health worker with Catholic Relief Services in Freetown, Sierra Leone. "Everybody here in Sierra Leone is praying for him right now."

The World Health Organization reported that throughout the three infected countries, 604 people have died from the virus since it began in March. About 30 percent of the deaths were in Sierra Leone where 442 cases have been reported.

Other medical personnel at the hospital in Kenema where Khan treated patients also have become infected with the virus, prompting Doctors Without Borders to send a team to the hospital this week to evaluate the situation.

"I am afraid for my life, I must say, because I cherish my life," Khan told Reuters last month before catching the viral disease. "Even with the full protective clothing you put on, you are at risk."

Sierra Leone-based NPR reporter Jason Beaubien called Khan’s contracting the virus a “huge blow” and “major setback." "And the fact that it is so public is just going to add to the overall fear and the sense among people there's nothing you can do to keep yourself safe,” he said.

Beaubien also added that this outbreak among hospital staff might make others reluctant about visiting another hospital and undermine to control the spreading.

As for Dyson, he predicted that instead of instigating more infection, the news of Khan would "bring things to a new level of urgency.”

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