The current Ebola outbreak in Africa is a serious problem. Since it began in March, the outbreak has claimed 729 lives, leaving another 1,300 people with confirmed or suspected infections.
This is by far the most serious and deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus ever. The second most deadly outbreak, in 1976, only had 602 cases and 431 deaths.
Earlier today, Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), spoke to leaders from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone (the three most affected countries) in Conakry, the capital of Guinea.
She proposed a $100 million plan to help reverse the tide of the battle against the outbreak by deploying hundreds of additional personnel to reinforce the local and international health workers who have been overwhelmed by the high number of infections.
Chan, in no uncertain terms, stressed the urgency and importance of putting this plan into place:
“This meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response.This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it.”
She also added that the ways things are going now, the chance of the outbreak spreading to other countries is high:
“If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries.”
In her speech, Chan told the leaders that this particular strain of the virus is the most lethal strain in the Ebola virus family. According to the W.H.O., the virus has killed more than half of the people it has infected.
She also talked in detail about how fast and easily the virus has been spreading, as well as pointing that,
“…it has demonstrated its ability to spread via air travel, contrary to what has been seen in past outbreaks.”
The virus is spreading not only in rural areas but also in densely populated cities. Chan warned that if it is not contained quickly, it has the potential to mutate:
“Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanisms of viruses and other microbes. We must not give this virus opportunities to deliver more surprises.”
Luckily, the virus is not yet airborne- it spreads via bodily fluids. If the blood, vomit or feces of an infected person comes in contact with the eyes, nose or mouth of someone else, the infection can be transmitted.
Most of the cases in the current outbreak are people caring for their sick relatives or preparing their bodies for burial. But health workers treating the sick are also at high risk:
“The outbreak is affecting a large number of doctors, nurses and other health care workers, one of the most essential resources for containing an outbreak,”
Chan said at one point during her speech. Just yesterday, Sheik Umar Khan, Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor who had treated over 100 patients, died from the disease himself. It was a massive blow to the country’s efforts to battle the disease.
The W.H.O. says that the $100 million plan “identifies the need” for hundreds of additional personnel in the region. A statement they released said,
“Of greatest need are clinical doctors and nurses, epidemiologists, social mobilization experts, logisticians and data managers.”
The CDC has said that the chances of the outbreak spreading across the Atlantic and taking hold in the United States is slim, mainly because people have to come into direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluid to get the virus.
However, they are still preparing for what they call the “remote possibility” that the outbreak does come to the States.
Read more from The New York Times here.