Ebola Claims Lives of Five Study Co-Authors Before Paper Is Published

Portrait of Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan. Image credit: Pardis Sebeti

Getting published in a journal like Science should be an incredibly exciting time for any researcher. Unfortunately, before the paper “Genomic surveillance elucidates Ebola virus origin and transmission during the 2014 outbreak” could be published online yesterday, 5 of the 50 co-authors fell ill and died from the Ebola virus disease (EVD) raging on in West Africa. As of August 28, there have been 3,069 suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola across West Africa, resulting in 1,552 deaths.

In the paper, the researchers sequenced the genomes of the Ebola virus from 78 patients across the affected region, including Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. They identified the incredibly rapid mutation rate within the virus, which is currently changing twice as fast as ever before. They were able to determine that although the virus was originally transmitted to humans through an animal reservoir, the spread has been due to human interaction with infected individuals and not by several animals infecting humans in several locations.

The co-authors who had died from Ebola all had ties to Kenema Government Hospital (KGH)’s Lassa fever ward in Sierra Leone. Since the start of the outbreak, over 24 KGH personnel have died because of the EVD. Lassa is similar to Ebola in that they are both acute hemorrhagic fevers with similar symptoms, though the viruses are not related.

Co-workers and study co-authors had many wonderful words to say about each person; not surprising, considering the kind of person it takes to dedicate your time and put yourself at risk in order to help others. Presented in alphabetical order, these are the men and women who became infected and died while treating others with EVD:

Mbalu Fonnie: a midwife who spent 30 years treating patients with Lassa. As the chief nurse for the Lassa fever ward at KGH, she contracted Ebola while providing care for a pregnant co-worker who had also been infected.

Mohamed Fullah: a laboratory tech at KGH and an instructor at a local college, Fullah did not contract the virus while performing laboratory duties; it is assumed he picked it up from a family member. Prior to his death, several of Fullah’s family members had perished from EVD.

Sheik Humarr Khan: Director of the Lassa Fever Program for the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. As a medical doctor, he treated patients with Lassa for more than a decade and had treated over 100 Ebola patients in the current outbreak. Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma described Khan as a “national hero.”

Alice Kovoma: a nurse who worked in KGH’s Lassa Ward, she contracted Ebola from the same pregnant co-worker as Mbalu Fonnie. 

Alex Moigboi: a nurse who specialized in treating Lassa for over 10 years. Along with Mbalu Fonnie and Alice Kovoma, Moigboi contracted the virus from the same co-worker.

A sixth co-author, Sidiki Saffa, also passed away before the paper could be published, though the cause of death was unrelated to Ebola. He was a lab tech who collected and processed Ebola patient blood samples, but he died from a stroke. However, co-workers state that the stress from the outbreak may have contributed to his death.

[Hat tip: Science]

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