Skip to main content

Chief Ebola doctor overseeing cases in Sierra Leone contracts the virus

By Caleb Hellerman and Millicent Smith, CNN
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
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
updated 9:54 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
updated 7:24 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
updated 1:44 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
updated 8:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
updated 3:22 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
updated 4:00 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
updated 6:34 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
updated 12:46 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
updated 9:51 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
updated 11:21 AM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
updated 12:01 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
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
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT