Health experts report that deaths from the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa are slowing, which is a sign that the latest outbreak of the deadly virus may finally be getting under control. The current outbreak has killed more than 120 people and, unlike previous outbreaks, has spread beyond the forested rural villages into a big city.
Guinea’s health ministry told the media that the number of new cases has fallen dramatically. Once they are sure there are no more new cases, the outbreak will be considered under control.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the death toll from the 2014 Ebola outbreak is now 121 people in Guinea and Liberia. Officials in those two countries and other neighboring countries that may have been affected have reported approximately 200 patients confirmed or suspected to have the virus. However, that figure includes some cases from Mali, which the government there reported today turned out not to be Ebola. The vast majority of victims are in Guinea, where the current outbreak began. Officials have reported 168 cases in Guinea, including 108 deaths. Liberia has reported 13 deaths from the virus.
The outbreak began in a remote forested southeastern region of Guinea, near the Liberian border, in February. This was the first time the Ebola virus appeared in West Africa, far from sites of previous outbreaks in Central and East Africa, including by the Ebola River, for which it was named in 1976. The WHO and other health organizations helping study and contain the disease (Médecins Sans Frontières, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and other public health agencies or charities) have called this outbreak one of the most challenging they have faced. Nearly all the previous cases of the Ebola virus have been in small villages, which made it easier for health officials to handle by isolating the stricken and getting the disease under control to stop the spread before anyone else was taken ill. This outbreak involved cases in the crowded Guinean capital of Conakry, which led to public panic. There was also violence against health workers fueled by the locals’ fear of the disease.
Ebola is one of the deadliest known viruses. The fatality rate in some outbreaks has been as high as 90 percent. There is no cure, and scientists have not been able to determine why some who are infected actually survive.
The Ebola virus is spread through contact with bodily fluids, including sweat and semen. It is a hemorrhagic fever, meaning it causes unstoppable bleeding, vomiting and diarrhea, and eventually organ failure. Health officials, clad in hazmat suits, are trying to stop the disease from spreading by isolating the sick and tracking down any people with whom they may have had contact during the approximately 21-day incubation period.
Although the Ebola virus remains a significant concern in the area, the WHO is confident it will be getting under control and contained in the next month or so. Since most people who get the disease die from it, isolating them should stop the spread, as long as health workers can quickly identify anyone they may have contaminated and isolate them as well. WHO’s spokesperson in Guinea told reporters, “We know this disease. It’s not the first time we’ve seen it so we know the measures we can take.”
By Dyanne Weiss