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Sept. 22, 2014

Ebola epidemic worsens in western Africa

by Amalia Chiapperino, Online Managing Editor
The Ebola virus currently spreading throughout western Africa has generated over 3,700 suspected and confirmed cases as of Aug 31, making it the largest Ebola outbreak in history. This strain of the Ebola hemorrhagic fever originated in March in Guinea and has since spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal, with over 1,848 deaths.
Health workers in Liberia prepare to treat infected citizens. Courtesy of National Geographic
Health workers in Liberia prepare to treat infected citizens.

In August, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak to be a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" in a statement following a two-day conference in Geneva, where WHO is based. The statement called on nations and health agencies for international aid to help contain the outbreak.

The United States responded to the international plea, sending money and supplies as well as health workers and researchers. The Obama Administration authorized $88 million to assist eradication efforts. Over 100 personnel from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been sent to the region to assist containment efforts. President Obama also authorized military intervention by sending military doctors as well as medical equipment.

The epidemic has now spread to urban areas such as Freetown, Sierra Leone and Monrovia, Liberia. WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan credited the particular severity of this outbreak with the conditions of the countries affected. "These three countries that we’re talking about are very, they have very challenging conditions," Chan said in an interview with the New York Times.

Health aid workers are having difficulty keeping Ebola from spreading in Liberia due to a lack of resources, including hospital supplies and available space in medical clinics, and public knowledge about the virus. Special Representative to the Secretary General Karen Landgren expressed concern for the threats Ebola poses to Liberia. "The speed and scale of the loss of lives, and the economic, social, political and security reverberations of the crisis, are affecting Liberia profoundly,” Landgren said in a press release. Liberia's already weak health system is struggling, and economic ramifications as a result of the outbreak have caused famine in some areas, adding to the state of crisis felt throughout the country.

Additionally, health care workers in Liberia and other countries have been infected with the virus, causing the outbreak to intensify. The health care workers infected include four American doctors who contracted the virus while treating patients in Liberia and other affected African countries. Three of the four infected doctors have been successfully cured of the disease and Dr. Rick Sacra is said to be in stable condition at Nebraska Medical Center, after receiving a blood transfusion from American doctor Kent Brantly, one of the three Americans infected with the virus who has since been cured.

The Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a viral illness with a survival rate of roughly 50 percent that is transmitted though contact with infected body fluids. Symptoms include fevers, diarrhea, vomiting, headache, and in severe cases, external and internal bleeding. Health officials have had difficulty diagnosing the disease because the symptoms correspond with various other illnesses more common in western African countries. This has been a contributing factor in the failed containment efforts in Liberia.

No established vaccine has been found since the discovery of the Ebola virus in Zaire in 1976, but several experimental treatments have been used on individuals infected from the recent outbreak, includingblood transfusions from patients who have survived the virus, which have shown some success.



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