Minnesota health officials met with West African community leaders Monday in Brooklyn Park to try to address concerns over the Ebola outbreak that has killed hundreds of people in West Africa.
There have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States. But there has been much anxiety in Minnesota after Nigerian health officials reported Friday that a Liberian government official, Patrick Sawyer, died from the disease after traveling from Liberia. Sawyer's wife and children live in suburban Minneapolis, said Zubah Kpanaku, board chairman for the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota, who knows the family.
"It's a global problem because Patrick could have easily come home with Ebola, easy," his wife, Decontee Sawyer, said. The Associated Press left phone and e-mail messages for Decontee Sawyer on Monday.
Minnesota is home to about 17 percent of Liberians in the United States. The Census Bureau estimates that there are 6,000 to 10,000 people with Liberian ancestry in the state, according to data gathered from 2010 to 2012.
The Department of Health said officials are providing information to health providers, West African community members and local West African media. At Monday's meeting, officials discussed more community meetings and said they would take out advertisements promoting travel safety and when to seek medical attention.
Asked what visitors from West Africa should do if they become sick, Dr. Aaron DeVries, medical director of the health department's infectious diseases division, said they should go to their regular doctor.
"The majority of the time, in fact, almost always, it will be another problem that needs addressing — not Ebola," he said.
Kpanaku said his wife is in Liberia, helping build a house for family. He said she is a registered nurse, so she knows how to protect herself, but she still may try to come back to Minnesota sooner than planned.
Community members say they raised more than $700 during the weekend. Kpanaku said the money may go toward masks, gloves and other supplies that will help prevent people from getting infected, or it could be used to help another group transport supplies they have collected. More fundraisers are being discussed.
Bea Wilson, president of the Organization of Liberian Women in Minnesota, said she's advising her family members in Liberia to use proper hand-washing techniques and avoiding hugging or getting close to people.
"Everybody is affected. Everybody's got families there," she said, adding: "We are all afraid."