PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania — The deadliest outbreak of Ebola has paralyzed West Africa and forced Liberia to close its borders. It has also led to the evacuation of hundreds of U.S. Peace Corps volunteers, and so far, has ended in 700 deaths.
According to Bar Janssens, director of operations for Medecins San Frontieres, the epidemic is entirely unprecedented. The outbreak began with just a few cases in Guinea in March, and has since infected nearly all of West Africa, tallying nearly 909 confirmed cases.
Ebola outbreaks have a case fatality rate up to 90%. There is no curable vaccine or treatment. The virus is transmitted into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals, which is why the disease is so rampant in Africa. According to the World Health Organization, it is contracted human-to-human through only direct contact. It typically takes as long as 21 days before an infected person starts showing symptoms of the virus.
As of this week, President Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia has shut down most of the country’s border points after confirming the death of an Ebola-infected Liberian man who traveled into Nigeria. She also quarantined various infected neighborhoods and restricted public gatherings. Thus far, the WHO has confirmed 224 cases of Ebola in Liberia alone, 127 resulting in death.
The region is worried about further contraction of the disease, which is why Liberia has placed extensive restrictions on movement in and out of the country. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention claims the virus spreading on a plane is unlikely, unless a passenger were to come into direct contact with a sick passenger’s bodily fluids.
Meanwhile, U.S. Peace Corps announced the temporary evacuation of 340 volunteers from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone after a doctor and a missionary both contracted the disease. Though the likelihood of the outbreak spreading outside of West Africa is low, infected Americans must be treated and screened before returning to the United States.
The lethality of this particular outbreak is largely due to sheer geographic volume. As opposed to past outbreaks, this outbreak spreads over a larger region, with permeable borders and weak health-care systems. A viable vaccine does not seem likely in the near future, which leaves health care officials with low-tech tools to combat the rampant disease. For now, disease detectives are in the process of finding victims and quarantining them. Dr. Frieden from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is optimistic that the situation will be resolved, though it may take some time. He states, it’s a “marathon, not a sprint.”
– Samantha Scheetz