How does 2014’s disastrous outbreak of Ebola compare with past epidemics? First discovered 38 years ago, the first epidemic occurred in South Sudan when 284 people were infected with 151 dying. The second major outbreak didn’t occur until the mid-1990s when 250 people died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Further outbreaks happened in 2000, 2003 and 2007, killing hundreds. However, all previous epidemics pale in comparison with 2014. The death toll in West Africa is approaching 5, 000 with Liberia experiencing the highest number of deaths – 2, 458. Sierra Leone comes second with 1, 183 while 843 people have died in Guinea. Nigeria has experienced 8 deaths but has largely contained the virus. After six weeks with no new cases, it is set to be declared Ebola free by the World Health Organization.
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Statistics and facts about the Ebola virus disease
The Ebola virus disease (EVD) was first discovered in Zaire, today the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1976. Since the first cases appeared in an area along the Ebola River the virus was named after it. Around the same time, the Ebola disease was also identified in parts of Sudan, which today belong to South Sudan. These first two known outbreaks caused 318 cases and 280 deaths in Zaire, and 284 cases and 151 deaths in Sudan. Thus, the Zaire ebolavirus showed a significantly higher fatality rate than the Sudanese strain.
When infected with the Ebola virus, within two to 21 days people start to show symptoms that are similar to other tropical diseases or to influenza: fever and sweating, weakness, headache, body aches and pains, then vomiting and diarrhea. Five to seven days after the first symptoms start, about half of all Ebola patients develop internal bleeding. Ebola is assumingly contracted during human contact with animals, especially via the consumption of bush meat like apes and bats. But in fact, little is known about how the virus changes over to humans. Once it is settled within human bodies, the virus is easily spread through blood and other bodily fluids.
The 2014 outbreak in West Africa is the largest Ebola epidemic so far, with a fatality rate of around 50 percent. As of October 15, 2014, this outbreak had resulted in some 9, 000 cases and 4, 500 deaths. The most affected countries were Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The first victim of this epidemic died in late December 2013 in Guinea. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported a major outbreak for the region in March 2014. Five months later, it declared the outbreak an international public health emergency. The West African outbreak concerns the Zaire ebolavirus, the deadliest of all Ebola virus strains. By October 2014, further related Ebola cases had been reported in Nigeria, Senegal, and even Spain and the United States.
Poor functioning health systems are the major cause for the rapid spread of Ebola. It is no surprise that the affected African countries are among the ones with the most dissatisfying healthcare worldwide. For example, healthcare workers in those countries often lack necessary and adequate protective clothing, and are therefore threatened with being infected. Even with international help, currently available resources are not sufficient to stem the West African outbreak.