“The daily routine was very demanding,” Stihler admitted. “Exposure to this highly infectious disease required a great deal of self-control from all of us.” Ebola viruses are transmitted from person to person by body fluids. Those infected first suffer flu-like symptoms such as high fever, a cough, painful limbs, diarrhea and vomiting. Later symptoms include skin rashes, shortness of breath, and bleeding – both internally and externally. The disease is usually fatal.
Almost 10,000 people, more than 4,000 in Liberia alone, have died from Ebola since the outbreak at the onset of 2014, according to the World Health Organization. Many infected people, however, have been saved thanks to the commitment of the numerous volunteers. And, fortunately, the number of new infections in West Africa has begun to decline. In Liberia, the last Ebola case was reported in March. This is a big success, one in which Sonja Stihler played a part.
As she was about to return to Germany, she got a big shock. On the way to check in at the airport in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city, fever was detected during a routine temperature check: Ebola was suspected, and Doctors Without Borders immediately placed her in quarantine. After weeks of caring for others, now she was experiencing what it was like to be a patient. “The uncertainty before the blood tests arrived was really terrible. Nonetheless, I don’t regret my time in Liberia,” recounted Sonja Stihler. She was very lucky: The first blood test was negative, and the second one 48 hours later confirmed the fever was not caused by Ebola. After a few days’ delay, she was able to fly home. As a safety precaution, her temperature was taken twice daily for three weeks following her return; it remained within the normal range.