March 30, 2015 / 5:57 PM / 2 years ago

Sierra Leone Ebola lockdown exposes hundreds of suspected cases

FREETOWN (Reuters) - A three-day lockdown in Sierra Leone has exposed hundreds of potential new cases of Ebola, aiding efforts to bring to an end an epidemic that has already killed 3,000 people in the country.

Officials ordered the country's 6 million residents to stay indoors or face arrest during the period that ended late on Sunday as hundreds of health officials went door-to-door looking for hidden patients and educating residents about the virus.

Reports to authorities of sick people increased by 191 percent in Western Area, which includes the capital, during the lockdown compared with the previous weekend, said Obi Sesay of the National Ebola Response Center.

"Tests are being carried out on their blood samples, and the results will be in by Wednesday," Sesay said, adding that 173 of the patients in Freetown met an initial case definition for Ebola.

In the rest of the country, there was a 50 percent increase in sick people reported in the lockdown's first two days, Sesay said.

Sierra Leone has reported nearly 12,000 cases since the worst Ebola epidemic in history was detected in neighboring Guinea a year ago. In all, more than 10,000 people have died in the two countries plus Liberia.

New cases have fallen since a peak of more than 500 a week in December, but the government said the lockdown, its second, would help identify the last cases and reduce complacency.

A source who declined to be identified said there were 961 death alerts nationwide during the lockdown's first two days and 495 reports of illness of which 235 were suspected Ebola.

Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg/Hugh Lawson

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