Fighting Ebola: Marc’s Sierra Leone Diary – Part 2
Alder Hey Lab Technician Marc Seddon recently travelled to Africa to spend five weeks working in a clinic laboratory testing samples from patients, to help in the fight against Ebola.
Marc is blogging to share his experience during his visit: here are the latest extracts from his diary:
Days 3 and 4
It’s day three now, I think, all the days seem to merge together here! I was on the day shift yesterday, once again it was really really busy and we’ve had plenty of samples to process, some from the Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC) and some from community.
The samples we get from the ETC are mainly EDTA blood as the patients are living, but the majority of samples from the community are viral swabs from deceased bodies. It’s important to determine if the cause of death was Ebola as the burial team can perform a safe burial and also help the family who may have been in contact with the body carrying the virus. This is one of the main reasons for the outbreak, as it’s culture for these people to wash their family members after death so the Ebola is spreading through families and villages really quickly.
At the moment we’ve had a so called “witch doctor” who claims to be healing people from Ebola, and this caused chaos for us in the lab and the ETC. A lot of the recent cases are all connected to this person. We also have a few separate incidents which have created an increase in the workload. These involve patients lying about their names and where they live so that they don’t have to be in the treatment centre and subsequently aren’t tested for Ebola, but a few days later these people come back feeling unwell, with their real names, and test positive.
This happened with a young lady, but after she was initially sent home without being tested, she then hosted an “I haven’t got Ebola” party. Within a few days we’ve had the majority of her friends and family come in feeling unwell and test positive. So it’s a case of trying to educate people in the communities to understand what’s really happening and how it’s spreading, but that’s easier said than done! We have a holding centre in Makeni, which is a couple of hundred metres down the road from the ETC, and so far they have between 50 and 100 patients all waiting to be transferred to the ETC for testing as they are showing signs of VHF, so it’s going to be a busy few weeks!
Day five was a Sunday, which is usually a quiet day for the lab in terms of samples from the community as nearly the entire country attend church. I was on the morning shift which starts at 6am and finishes at 2pm. Of a morning we basically get all the supplies ready, which includes buckets of water to make up our hypochlorite and general tidying of the lab and maintenance of any equipment. We do a full check of the isolators at the start of every day to ensure they’re in working order and safe to use. Then samples usually start to arrive around 8am from the community and anytime after that from the ETC.
Days 6 and 7
Days six and seven have been pretty much the same as every other day: really really busy! The late shift isn’t finishing until after 11pm every night as we have that many samples to get through, but we are coping well and were all here to help each other too.
So to sum up the first week, it’s been a fantastic experience thus far, it’s been really really busy, I’ve learned so much in such a short period of time and the entire team are getting on great! We’ve had a large number of positive samples for Ebola, so the ETC is pretty busy at the moment, in fact, it’s the busiest it’s ever been since the outbreak!
I have two late shifts in a row from today (Wednesday and Thursday) then I finally have a day off on Friday which will be spent climbing one of the hills that are around Makeni, and then going to a place called The Wusum, which is where a lot of the top NGOs and other higher members of staff are staying. They have a swimming pool and good food so it’s a bit of a change and it’s what’s needed to chill out and refocus!