Controlling the Ebola Outbreak

Patrick Wolff, Staff Writer

As of September 26, the death toll in West Africa has surpassed 3,000 as a result of the recent Ebola outbreak. Estimates from the World Health Organization and the CDC regarding the number of people now infected with the virus run as high 6,500. Cases of Ebola have been confirmed in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal. All countries have recorded deaths as a result of the virus, although both Nigeria and Senegal have not reported any new cases over the past few days. Liberia has been hit the hardest, suffering almost 2,000 deaths thus far. Along with Sierra Leone and Guinea, Liberia is continuing to report new cases throughout the country.

Both the World Health Organization and the CDC believe that the reported numbers of infection and death are much smaller than the actual rates and that the true extent of the outbreak is unknown. The belief that the extent of the virus is being undercut stems from the fact that many small towns and villages often refuse to make reports due to a lack of trust in their government or in health officials. Control efforts have also been hampered by a lack of proper training, equipment and preparation for an outbreak this large.

Current estimates by the WHO and the CDC place the projected number of Ebola cases between now and January anywhere between 20,000 and one million. These numbers are representative of a worst-case scenario with little to no change in the current procedures and amount of intervention.

The first case of the Ebola outbreak was reported in Guinea in December of 2013. It is believed that a two-year-old child from a remote corner of the country was the first to be infected. After his death, the virus spread to his family, all of whom eventually succumbed to the disease. At first, the government in Guinea believed the outbreak to simply be a local virus. But by March of 2014 the World Health Organization had declared it an outbreak of Ebola. By that time 35 people had died from the virus. Within a few weeks, the disease was being reported in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and by August it had spread to Nigeria and Senegal. A second outbreak has been reported in Nigeria, although it is a different strand of the virus and not related to the West African outbreak.

There are five known species of Ebola virus, four of which can cause the disease in humans. The strand of Ebola responsible for this outbreak is considered the deadliest. Ebola is spread easily to other people through contact with blood and other bodily fluids, and as a result, many of the reported victims of the disease have been doctors and aid workers.

International efforts are currently underway to try to develop a vaccine for the disease. Although they have so far been unsuccessful, the health organizations in the area are doing their best to try to prevent the disease from spreading any further. There is no vaccine, but infection from the disease is not a death sentence. Some people have survived infection, including four American citizens. All of the infected Americans were flown back to the United States–three have been successfully treated while one is still receiving treatment in Atlanta, Georgia.

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