The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, which was first identified in March 2014 in Guinea, continues to spread in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. According to a June 13 UNICEF report, the case count in Liberia is 28 with 16 deaths.
WHO/AFRO (the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa) reports 351 cases in Guinea, including 226 deaths, as of June 5. However, the national committee for management of the disease disputes the WHO death count and the Guinean Minister of Health, Remy Lamah, reports 236 confirmed cases including 144 deaths as of June 13.
In Sierra Leone, the number of deaths has risen to 19. According to NBC News, Sierra Leone’s ministry of health reports a total of 95 cases. On June 11, Sierra Leone shut its borders to trade with Guinea and Liberia and closed schools, cinemas, and nightclubs in a vulnerable region to prevent spread of the virus. Community resistance in outbreak areas in Sierra Leone is impeding the follow-up of contacts, a vital tool for monitoring and controlling the spread of the disease. Education in outbreak regions and other vulnerable areas on disease transmission and symptoms is vital to slowing its spread.
WHO and partners have sent 6 experts and 5,000 sets of personal protective equipment to Sierra Leone. On June 3, WHO organized a collaborative meeting between Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. The affected nations have agreed to enhance cross-border surveillance and address community resistance. Other West African nations, including The Gambia, have heightened national surveillance and adopted preventive and response measures to take in case the virus reaches their borders.
For those who are unfamiliar with the disease, Ebola is a severe, often fatal virus that affects humans and wild animals. No vaccine is currently available. Ebolavirus can be introduced to humans from contact with the organs, blood, or bodily fluids of infected animals—such as handling of dead wild animals. Fruit bats are the suspected natural host of the virus, and non-human primates are often infected as well. Transmission from human-to-human is also possible through direct contact with organs, blood, or bodily fluids of infected people—often during burial ceremonies or in healthcare settings. Symptoms listed on the CDC website include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, and lack of appetite. In some cases, patients may also present with a rash, red eyes, hiccups, cough, sore throat, chest pain, difficulty breathing and swallowing, and bleeding inside and outside the body. Looking at these symptoms, it’s not hard to understand why Ebola virus disease is also known as “Ebola hemorrhagic fever.”
6 different strains of the Ebola virus have now been discovered, of which the most fatal is the Zaire ebolavirus. The current outbreak in West Africa is a novel strain that was initially identified as the Zaire strain but is, in fact, a variant. When it was first discovered in 1976, the Zaire ebolavirus caused an outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire), killing 280 people. The case fatality rate (the percentage of cases that result in death) was 88%. The current outbreak in West Africa has a case fatality rate of 57.7%, according to a June 1 Global Dispatch article.