By: Chioma Umeha
The World Health Organization reports more than 2,106 have the disease and at least 1,848 people have died. As a deadly Ebola epidemic spreads across western Africa, world leaders are scrambling to find solutions. Here's what you need to know about the disease and the havoc it is wreaking:
The Ebola epidemic has been growing in western Africa since last year.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports the disease in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.
WHO began reporting on the epidemic in March, and initial estimates indicated the outbreak began in early this year. However, subsequent investigation traced the likely origins of the epidemic back even further, to a 2-year-old child who died in Guinea on December 2013.
Investigators believe a health care worker then became infected and carried the disease to other parts of the country. By late March, 49 people had been diagnosed, 29 of whom died. As of July 1, the disease had spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone. It is affecting both rural communities as well as Conakry, the capital of Guinea. On July 27, Nigerian officials confirmed the disease had spread to that country. President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone declared a state of emergency on July 31. The country has the highest number of known cases of the disease.
At least 729 people have been killed by the epidemic
According to health officials. Exact figures fluctuate as authorities improve their counts, but one thing is clear: The death toll is rising. Accounting for all confirmed, probable, and suspected deaths, the count has grown from 330 people in late June to 729 as of July 31. The total number of likely diagnosed victims — including those who have not died — also continues to rise, with more than 1,300 confirmed or suspected cases thus far.
The disease is extraordinarily deadly and kills most of the people who become infected.
By March, 59 per cent of the people who were diagnosed with Ebola had died. That number could rise even higher, with WHO reporting a potential death rate of up to 90 per cent. During the first Ebola epidemic in 1976, the disease killed 88 per cent of the people who became infected. There are five different species of Ebola, three of which have been seen in Africa. The ongoing epidemic involves the Zaire Ebola virus, which is the most deadly subtype. This is the worst outbreak of Ebola in the history of the disease.
Ebola is a relatively new disease; it was first identified in 1976 near the Ebola River in what was then Zaire (and today is the Democratic Republic of Congo).
The first patient in 1976 was a 44-year-old man who was originally believed to have malaria. When scientists realized they were dealing with a new disease they named it after the nearby river.
There have been other outbreaks since — including significant ones in 1995, 2000, 2003, and 2007 — but none that have claimed as many lives as the current one.
The ongoing epidemic has been exacerbated by several factors: geography and distances; movement of both people and bodies; weak health care infrastructure in affected countries; health care workers who lack experience with Ebola; and communities that do not understand the disease and don't want to cooperate with health officials.
There is no vaccine.
Right now there is no vaccine for Ebola, though WHO reports that there are several currently being tested. One of those vaccines has shown promise when given to apes.For now, however, "raising awareness" is the primary way to fight the spread of the disease, according to WHO. Treating those who have become infected involves using IVs to balance "the patient's fluids and electrolytes" among other things, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC also emphasizes the use of preventative measures such isolating those who are infected and having health care workers use goggles, masks, and other protective clothing.
Ebola is a brutal disease that causes everything from nausea to bleeding from all of the body’s orifices.
The first symptoms of Ebola include the sudden onset of fever, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, and other things. As the disease progresses, it can cause kidney and liver failure. Symptomstypically start showing up between 8 and 10 days after exposure, though the can appear sooner or later.Ebola can also cause bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and rectum. And it can produce swelling in the eyes and genitals, among other things.
The disease spreads via bodily fluids.
Ebola can spread either from animals to humans, or from humans to humans. In either case, it spreads via bodily fluids. Most bodily fluids — blood, mucus, semen, saliva, etc. — can spread Ebola, as can objects and surfaces that are contaminated with infected secretions. Due to the way the virus spreads, health care workers are among the most susceptible groups of people. People have also picked up Ebola after handling the bodies of those who died from the disease. This has been a problem in parts of Africa where burial rituals have put people in contact with infected bodies.Ebola is not an airborne disease.
Ebola likely comes from bats.
Experts believe the outbreak will stay confined to west Africa. Disease specialist Kamran Khan told NPR that it was unlikely Ebola would spread to other continents. While Ebola has come to Conakry, the capital of Guinea, the city is not a significant international hub and is comparatively more isolated than other metro areas that have catapulted diseases from country to country.
Officials say more needs to be done to stop the disease.
Last month, the U.N. called the epidemic a "sub-regional crisis" that requires drastic action. Doctors Without Borders has previously called the Ebola outbreak an "out of control" epidemic that is taxing its resources. As a result of the worsening situation, officials from WHO and several African governments recently met to discuss a multinational response plan.WHO Ebola specialist Pierre Formenty also told The Guardian that the number of recent cases has surged because efforts to contain it were relaxed prematurely.