‘Out of control’ Ebola claims about 500 lives in west Africa

There is social stigma attached to the disease because of which people are believed to be hiding from health care workers

By Vani Manocha
Published: Tuesday 24 June 2014

imageThe Ebola outbreak that has killed hundreds of people in west Africa since it started in Guinea, in February 2014, is now "totally out of control", according to international NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).

West Africa, according to World Health Organization (WHO), is going through the deadliest outbreak of Ebola since 1976, when the disease was first identified. If reports are to be believed, it is also the first time the outbreak has hit three countries simultaneously. The outbreak that has been surging since February, beginning in Guinea has now spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Almost 530 people have been declared dead by the international health agency.

More than 500 cases have been reported; up from 208 cases reported two weeks ago, a 60 per cent spike.

Map: Spread of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone (As of June 18, 2014)


Also see: Situation (As of April 2014)

Challenges are too many
Previous Ebola outbreaks that were confined to particular regions have been controlled within a matter of weeks or months. That's partly because victims die so quickly, sometimes just days after the virus attacks. When the outbreak is confined to a relatively small area, quarantines are easier to enforce. This time, the case is different. There is social stigma attached to the disease because of which people are believed to be hiding from health care workers.

The multiple locations of the current outbreak and its movement across borders make it one of the “most challenging Ebola outbreaks ever”, says Fadela Chaib, a WHO spokeswoman.

Before this, the biggest outbreak affected 425 people in Uganda in 2000, killing 224 people.

Another reason why experts find the outbreak difficult to curb is that relatives of those dead after being infected with the disease tend to come in contact with the dead bodies during the funeral and last rites, thereby getting infected in return. "There are many villages in the eastern part of Sierra Leone that are basically devastated," virologist Robert Garry of Tulane University told US’ National Public Radio (NPR).

Since the discovery of Ebola in 1976, there have been more than 3,000 reported cases and more than 1,600 deaths. Here is a timeline of Ebola cases in the continent by year 


All about Ebola
It is an extremely contagious disease, easily spread from close contact with the bodily fluids of an infected organism — both human and animal. Fruit bats are believed to be the natural host, however, the exact origins of the disease are unknown. Patients afflicted with the virus may experience symptoms similar to that of flu, such as fever, headaches, and vomiting. The illness has a death rate of up to 90 per cent. There is no known cure and treatment is limited to supportive therapy. WHO considers it one of the world’s most dangerous diseases.

Not endemic to Guinea
The virus was first spotted in Guinea's remote south-eastern region of Nzerekore, where most of the deaths have been recorded. This is the first known outbreak in Guinea—most recent cases have been far away in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

According to NBC News, genetic testing makes it clear this particular Ebola outbreak is being caused by a local strain that arose in West Africa. Ebola had only been seen in central Africa before, but the discovery suggests that the virus had been circulating undetected before.

Feature: Ebola — A growing threat?

Preliminary Report: Emergence of Zaire Ebola Virus Disease in Guinea

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