(Recasts with interview with Decontee Sawyer, adds details, background)
By Fiona Ortiz
CHICAGO, July 29 (Reuters) - The Minnesota wife of a Liberian-American man who died last week in Nigeria from the Ebola virus said on Tuesday she wants to use his memory to spur efforts to fight the disease, which has also infected two U.S. relief workers in Liberia.
Decontee Sawyer, a 34-year-old counselor for sexual assault victims and mother of three small girls, said Minneapolis' large and tight-knit Liberian community has woken up to the problem of Ebola after her husband's death. She added that she hopes to encourage them to donate funds and equipment to relief workers risking their lives fighting the disease.
Patrick Sawyer, 40, who died on Friday in Lagos, was the first recorded case of Ebola in Nigeria. The hospital where he had been put in isolation several days earlier was evacuated and decontaminated on Monday.
"We want to encourage all Liberians and friends of Liberians to donate money or protective gear and send it to these groups that are already at the forefront in fighting Ebola," Sawyer told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Decontee, a Liberian-born U.S. citizen like her husband, praised groups such as Samaritan's Purse and Global Health Ministries doing relief work in Ebola-hit areas.
"They are risking their lives," she said.
Sawyer had flown to Lagos from Liberia, and his death put airlines and surrounding countries on alert. Liberia closed its borders, some airlines suspended flights to Liberia and authorities were tracking people who had had contact with him.
He had worked for the Liberian government since 2008, returning every six months or so to his family in the Minneapolis suburbs.
Ebola is believed to have killed 672 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since the outbreak began in February, according to the World Health Organisation.
The contagious disease, which has no known cure, has symptoms that include vomiting, diarrhea and internal and external bleeding. The fatality rate of the current outbreak is around 60 percent although Ebola can kill up to 90 percent of those who catch it.
A U.S. doctor with Samaritan's Purse, Kent Brantly, has come down with the disease and is in hospital in Liberia fighting for his life as is another American health volunteer, Nancy Writebol.
Sheik Umar Khan, the doctor leading Sierra Leone's fight against the worst Ebola outbreak on record, died from the virus on Tuesday. (Editing by Will Dunham and Eric Walsh)