Ebola Outbreak Continues to Spread through West Africa

Monday, July 21, 2014
By Paul Martin

Haley Kawaja
July 21, 2014

Something deadly is creeping across African borders, undetected.

Since February, an Ebola outbreak has spread from the remote southeast of Guinea across the fluid boundaries of West Africa into Sierra Leone and Liberia. 85 new cases were reported in the second week of July alone, helping to push the death toll to just over 600, and increasing pressure on the global health community to bring the epidemic under control.

But it’s not so easy. The early symptoms of Ebola are hardly unique and therefore they are difficult to detect. The most common signs are fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhea. As the infection progresses, individuals experience internal bleeding, an inability to clot blood, organ failure, and a shutdown of their immune system.

Ebola isn’t airborne, and it can’t survive for very long on surfaces, but it is highly transmissible through contact with blood or bodily fluids. Once infected, up to 90% of victims die (in the case of the current Ebola outbreak, this rate is around 56%).

The first Ebola outbreak occurred in the 1970s, and it claimed 280 lives. As of mid-June, the death toll of the current outbreak was 350, and it has since almost doubled to 603.

So how does the largest and most deadly Ebola outbreak to date get brought under control? Bart Janssens, director of operations for the medical group in Brussels, says this outbreak is particularly challenging because of the mobility of the infected populations and their proximity to major hubs like the capital cities of Guinea and Libera. The disease can spread more easily than ever with so many outbreak locations and the ease at which individuals can move across borders. Because the virus has a latent period of 21 days, by the time symptoms appear and become contagious many individuals have already crossed a border and brought the virus to another location.

A coordinated response that’s stretched to the limit

What’s more is that international and local medics, such as those from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), are experiencing difficulties accessing infected communities. A spokesman from the World Health Organization (WHO) said “It’s very difficult for us to get into communities where there is hostility to outsiders… We still face rumors, suspicion, and hostility.” Many individuals fear that outsiders will spread the disease instead of contain it. Those researching the outbreak have suggested that some infected individuals are being kept secret to avoid hospitalization and the assumed “death sentence.”

Indeed, hospitals are an easy breeding ground for the virus. Low-income countries such as those affected by the outbreak often do not have a strong enough health care systems to deal with such an outbreak. In cases where hospitals or health facilities do not have the resources for proper sterilization methods, the spread of bodily fluids or contaminated blood becomes much more likely.

The Rest…HERE

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