- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 29, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - An outbreak of Ebola in West Africa may seem like a distant threat to many Americans, but it is causing some to cancel travel plans and stirring fear in Minnesota, which has the largest Liberian immigrant population in the United States.

The potentially Ebola-related death last week of a Liberian government official whose wife and children live in Minnesota has heightened concerns and inspired a fundraising drive to send medical supplies to Liberia. State health officials also have been meeting with community members to talk about recognizing the disease and how to travel safely.

More than 670 people have died during the recent outbreak in West Africa. But no cases of Ebola have been confirmed in the United States, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday it poses little risk to the general U.S. population.

“It is killing people like crazy,” said Prudence McCabe, a Brooklyn Park resident of Liberian heritage. “Everyone is trying to call family members … we are trying to send money right away. … All we can do is pray and be helpful.”

Nigerian health officials reported Friday that Liberian government official Patrick Sawyer died from the disease after traveling from Liberia to Nigeria. The World Health Organization has not yet confirmed the cause. Sawyer was a former Minnesota resident and naturalized American whose wife and children still live in suburban Minneapolis.

His wife, Decontee Sawyer, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he had planned to come home for two of his three daughters’ birthdays next month.

“He came close to coming here,” she said. “For us here in the U.S. to think it’s on that side of the world … Ebola can come here. I don’t want that to happen.”

The Centers for Disease Control has said the risk of Ebola spreading to the United States is remote. The isolation and infection control measures that are standard in this country would likely snuff out such a possibility, it said.

“We do not anticipate this will spread in the U.S. if an infected person is hospitalized here,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement.

However, the CDC sent an alert to U.S. doctors on Monday, updating them on the West Africa outbreak, reminding them to ask patients with Ebola-like symptoms about recent travel, and to isolate and test patients they think might be infected.

Minnesota is home to about 17 percent of the United States’ Liberian population, the largest in the country, according to Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower. The Census Bureau estimates there are between 6,000 and 10,000 people with Liberian ancestry in the state, according to data gathered between 2010 and 2012.

The Minnesota Department of Health said officials are providing information to health providers, West African community members and local West African media. Officials said Monday they are planning community meetings and advertisements promoting travel safety.

Asked what visitors from West Africa should do if they become sick, Dr. Aaron DeVries, medical director of the state 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.

Sakui Malakpa, a professor at the University of Toledo who was in Minnesota over the weekend, said he has a ticket to travel to Liberia on Aug. 12, but is considering postponing his trip.

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