World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders officials said late last month that the Ebola outbreak currently ravaging West Africa is “totally out of control” and “one of the most challenging Ebola outbreaks ever.” New figures from the WHO now put the outbreak’s death toll at 467, and rising, as a total of 759 people are infected.
Although the outbreak is centralized in the areas of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, the WHO is holding an emergency meeting in Accra, Ghana, on Wednesday and Thursday with ministers of health in 11 countries spanning from Senegal to Uganda, in hopes of beating the virus before it spreads. Of particular concern are the borders between the three countries experiencing the outbreak, as the risk of cross-border transmission is high due to a high volume of commercial and social activities occurring along them. “Containment of this outbreak requires a strong response in the countries and especially along their shared border areas,” a WHO update said.
Killing as much as 90 percent of those infected, the Ebola outbreak is the largest and deadliest ever, according to the WHO. It’s especially difficult to handle because it’s being transmitted not only throughout communities, but in health care settings, too. In Liberia, authorities warned families, faith healers, or traditional doctors caught harboring Ebola patients that they would be “prosecuted under the laws of Liberia. It is illegal under our public health law to expose the people to [a] health hazard such as Ebola,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said in a statement, according to Reuters.
The emergency meeting will discuss all of the aforementioned factors (faith healers, densely populated areas, and cross-border transmission), which the WHO says are the three main reasons the virus is spreading. Along with the government officials, the meeting’s goal is to identify gaps where transmissions can be intercepted, to develop response plans, and to ensure political commitment and cooperation between borders.
Ebola virus, named after its first outbreak in a village near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is mostly transferrable through contact with blood, urine, saliva, semen, or any other bodily fluid from an infected person. The infection also goes by the name Ebola hemorrhagic fever, and its symptoms include: weakness, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat, quickly followed by vomiting diarrhea, rash, internal and external bleeding, and impaired kidney and liver function. Most people die from the infection because there is no vaccine and no specific treatment.
Although the outbreak is obviously very serious, there is a very low chance that it will ever spread to other parts of the world, thanks to the low volume of international flights leaving the affected area. In Conakry, Guinea, where the Ebola outbreak is prevalent, and which has an international airport, most flights remain local. “But 10 percent of the traffic goes to Paris,” infectious disease specialist Kamran Khan told NPR. So, if it were to spread, Paris would be the next stop. However, it would take prolonged contact with bodily fluids for it to spread, and chances of that happening make transmission to other continents very unlikely.