West Africa is bracing itself for the worst outbreak of the Ebola virus in nearly a decade. CNN is reporting that the death toll has risen to 85 with dozens more ill. The deaths are among 137 cases reported by the World Health Organization, which said the outbreak has “rapidly evolved” since starting in southeastern Guinea. Other suspected affected areas include Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Doctors Without Borders is calling the outbreak “unprecedented” in a press release because of the spread of the virus, a virus which is usually confined to a smaller area.
“We are facing an epidemic of a magnitude never before seen in terms of the distribution of cases in the country,” said Mariano Lugli, coordinator of MSF's project in Conakry. “MSF has intervened in almost all reported Ebola outbreaks in recent years, but they were much more geographically contained and involved more remote locations. This geographical spread is worrisome because it will greatly complicate the tasks of the organizations working to control the epidemic.”
According to the World Health Organization, the Ebola virus disease has a case fatality of up to 90 percent and outbreaks typically occur in Central and West Africa, near tropical forests. It first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It’s transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission, generally through close contact with blood, secretions, or other bodily fluids.
It is characterized by a sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat. It is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases internal and external bleeding.
There is no specific treatment or vaccine available for use in people or animals.
Doctors Without Borders says that field workers include doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, and water and sanitation experts. More than 40 tons of equipment has been flown into Guinea to try to curb the spread of the disease.
To break the chain of the transmission of the virus, isolation of the patient is oftentimes necessary.
Image via Wikimedia Commons