Covering the Ebola Crisis in West Africa

More stories from Angel Winklepleck

In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an International Public Health Emergency due to an outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa. Since then, the virus has spread to five West African nations, to which international health officials say the outbreak is confined. The five affected nations are Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Discovered earlier in the week, the strain in the Congo appears to be separate from that affecting the other four countries. With over 2,600 confirmed and suspected cases and the combined death toll at 1,427 as of August 23, officials are calling this the largest outbreak of Ebola in history. Controlling the outbreak is expected to cost around $430 million. Liberia is currently the hardest hit nation, with 624 deaths resulting from 1,082 cases.

The Ebola virus, discovered in Africa in 1976, is a filovirus with a 50-90% fatality rate. It spreads to humans from contact with an animal’s bodily fluids or feces. Ebola is believed to originate in fruit bats, who drool or defecate on foods later used by humans. Symptoms typically appear 8-10 days after initial exposure, presenting themselves in much the same ways as influenza. Diarrhea and vomiting typically accompany the flu-like symptoms, and 50% of sufferers experience hemorrhaging. Death occurs from organ failure due to a drop in blood pressure resulting from the sufferer’s blood vessels leaking fluid.

Two American doctors, Nancy Writebol and Kent Brantly, were recently discharged from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia after being treated with the experimental drug ZMapp. ZMapp’s effectiveness is unclear, due to the deaths of two other doctors who also received the treatment.

There is currently no approved vaccine or cure for Ebola. However, some have been found to be naturally immune. While the disease is difficult to contract, many healthcare workers have fallen ill by failing to properly protect themselves while treating patients. The United States government is seeking to further develop a vaccine proven effective in macaques.


In this last week, the Ebola crisis has continued to ravage West Africa. The virus has hit Senegal, bringing the total number of cases to over 3,500 according to World Health Organization (WHO) director Margaret Cho. WHO estimates that $600 million will be needed to treat and help contain the crisis. David Nabarro, who is responsible for organizing the UN’s response to the outbreak, says that the top priority is to provide protective gear and hazard pay to health workers dealing with Ebola sufferers. On the 8th, delegates from the African Union Executive Council held an emergency meeting in Ethiopia to discuss a strategy. With a death toll surpassing 2000 and counting, the United States is facing increased pressure to respond to the outbreak more effectively. President Obama said that the virus could mutate to become a threat to countries outside of those already affected. The U.S. military will spend $250 million to help with isolation units and equipment. Health workers involved with the treatment of Ebola patients are concerned with a shortage of suits.

A graphic depicting the outbreak data as of July 2014.