Skip to main content

Chief Ebola doctor overseeing cases in Sierra Leone contracts the virus

By Caleb Hellerman and Millicent Smith, CNN
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan is being treated in Kailahun, Sierra Leone
  • The Ministry of Health took to Facebook to deny reports the doctor died
  • Khan had been overseeing Ebola treatment and isolation units

(CNN) -- A doctor who has played a key role in fighting the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone is infected with the disease, according to that country's Ministry of Health.

Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan is being treated by the French aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres -- also known as Doctors Without Borders -- in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, Tim Shenk, an agency spokesman, told CNN.

Until falling ill, Khan had been overseeing Ebola treatment and isolation units at Kenema Government Hospital, about 185 miles east of the capital Freetown.

Cultural practices aiding Ebola spread
Fighting Ebola in urban Africa

Citing patient confidentiality, Shenk declined to provide additional details about Khan's condition.

The Ministry of Health took to Facebook to deny reports the doctor had died.

The ministry "wishes the general public and all partners working in the healthcare sector to know that . ... Khan is still alive and responding to treatment contrary to social media report of his demise," according to a Facebook post.

Sanjay Gupta: 'It only took moments'

Sierra Leone has had 427 confirmed cases of Ebola and 144 deaths, according to figures released Wednesday by the health ministry.

That puts it, along with Guinea, at the center of an outbreak of the virus that has steadily spread through western Africa since it began earlier this year. More than 1,000 people have contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, according to the World Health Organization.


Ebola typically kills 90% of those infected, but the death rate in this outbreak has dropped to roughly 60% thanks to early treatment.

What is Ebola, and why does it kill?

Ebola outbreak not under control
Doctors work to isolate Ebola outbreak

Officials believe that the Ebola outbreak has taken such a strong hold in West Africa due to the proximity of the jungle -- where the virus originated -- to Conakry, which has a population of 2 million. Since symptoms don't immediately appear, the virus can easily spread as people travel around the region. Once the virus takes hold, many die in an average of 10 days as the blood fails to clot and hemorrhaging occurs.

The disease isn't contagious until symptoms appear. Symptoms include fever, headache and fatigue. At that point, the Ebola virus is spread via bodily fluids.

Get the fast facts on Ebola

Health workers are at especially high risk, since they are in close contact with infected people and their bodily fluids. Adding to the danger, in the initial stages of infection doctors may mistake an Ebola infection for another, milder illness.

Aside from his work on Ebola, Khan also serves as the lead physician of the hospital's Lassa Fever Program, another fearsome tropical disease. The hospital's official biography page states Khan took on that job when his predecessor died of Lassa Fever.

I survived Ebola, but villagers shunned me

Part of complete coverage on
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and likely other countries have the capacity to shut down the U.S. power grid, says the NSA.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
If it wasn't for a comic's skit, Bill Cosby would still be America's favorite father, says expert.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Obama orders the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration in decades, prioritizing the deportation of "felons, not families."
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2106 GMT (0506 HKT)
Fighters loyal to ISIS are now in control of Derna, a city on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1945 GMT (0345 HKT)
The founder of a U.S. nonprofit that works with returning soldiers is named CNN's Hero of the Year.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
It's a very big challenge but NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan thinks it can be done.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0039 GMT (0839 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert explains how the most recent ISIS video differs from the other previous hostage execution videos.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
A Syrian cleric condemns ISIS and its execution of U.S. hostage Peter Kassig.
November 16, 2014 -- Updated 1720 GMT (0120 HKT)
Volunteer fighters in eastern Ukraine dig down just 800 meters from the front line.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
TV anchor wears the same suit for a year. Female colleague wears new outfit daily. Who gets criticized?
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1204 GMT (2004 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT