Ebola first arrived in Lagos, Nigeria—one of the largest cities in the world—on July 20. Global health officials feared the worst, warning that the disease could wreak untold havoc in the country.
But it hasn’t turned out that way. To date, Nigeria has reported only 20 confirmed or probable Ebola cases in a nation of 174 million people. Equally remarkable, there have only been eight deaths—about half the fatality rate experienced by other countries involved in the current outbreak. In fact, Nigeria could be declared Ebola-free as early as October 12. (That date would be 42 days after the last case was diagnosed, or double the maximum amount of time needed for the disease to incubate in a human body—the standard used by global health authorities.)
Nigeria’s success in stopping the outbreak could have implications for other countries, including the United States. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dispatched a team to the country this week to learn what went right.
So how did local and international health authorities curb Ebola in Nigeria while infections have continued to rise dramatically in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea?
Early identification: By the time Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian American who brought Ebola to Nigeria, arrived in Lagos on July 20, Nigerian officials were on the lookout for the disease. Sawyer was “acutely ill” when he landed at the airport, according to a CDC report. He went directly to a hospital, where doctors diagnosed him with malaria. But when anti-malaria treatments failed, doctors immediately began treating his symptoms as if they were Ebola. Sawyer was isolated in the hospital while doctors notified local officials of a possible case of Ebola and rushed blood samples to a local university for testing. (Sawyer died on July 25.)
But rather than descending into epidemic, there has not been a new case of the virus since September 5. And since September 24 the country’s Ebola isolation and treatment wards have sat empty. If by Monday, October 20 there are still no new cases, Nigeria, unlike the U.S., will be declared Ebola free by the World Health Organization (WHO).
What can we learn from this African country’s success quashing an Ebola outbreak?
Authors of a paper published October 9 in Eurosurveillance attribute Nigeria’s success in “avoiding a far worse scenario” to its “quick and forceful” response. The authors point to three key elements in the country’s attack:
- Fast and thorough tracing of all potential contacts
- Ongoing monitoring of all of these contacts
- Rapid isolation of potentially infectious contacts