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Health workers trying to fight Ebola keep getting attacked

A Red Cross team was attacked in Guinea yesterday while collecting dead bodies believed to be infected with Ebola.

This is the latest in a series of attacks on Ebola aid workers, the most disturbing being the recent stoning and killing of a team of eight journalists and health professionals who had been spreading public-health messages about Ebola in Guinea.

In the most recent attack in Guinea, the Associated Press reported, one aid worker was recovering from a wound in the neck after a crowd grew hostile to a Red Cross team's efforts to encourage safe burial practices — one of the main reasons for Ebola spread in the region.

"Family members of the dead initially set upon the six volunteers and vandalized their cars, said Mariam Barry, a resident," the AP reported. "Eventually a crowd gathered and headed to the regional health office, where they threw rocks at the building."

Other aid workers, including members of Doctors without Borders, have reported that fear of the virus or the belief foreigners are giving people the illness have spurred locals to attack health teams or run away at their sight.

Spreading public health messages has been extremely challenging in an environment with low health literacy and public trust in officials. Since this is the first time Ebola has ever appeared in West Africa, there was little understanding about the virus and public health officials have had a difficult time getting their messages across.

In Liberia, distrust in the government led some people to think Ebola is a government scam to attract international aid.

This year, Ebola has killed more people than sum total of all the previous outbreaks since the virus was first identified in 1976. So far, there have been more than 5,800 cases in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, and Senegal.

Yesterday, the CDC projected the case load could reach beyond a million by the new year in a worst-case scenario.

Further reading: Why public health officials around the world are now panicked about Ebola, seven reasons why this outbreak got so bad, and a list of aid groups working on the Ebola crisis and how to donate.

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