The Worst Ebola Outbreak In History

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 29 2014 @ 2:19pm

Ebola Deaths

We’re in the midst of it:

The outbreak is unprecedented both in infection numbers and in geographic scope. And so far, it’s been a long battle that doesn’t appear to be slowing down. The Ebola virus has now hit four countries: Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, and recently Nigeria, according to the country’s ministry of health. The virus — which starts off with flu-like symptoms and often ends with horrific hemorrhaging — has infected 1,201 people and killed an estimated 672 since this winter, according to the numbers on July 23 from the World Health Organization.

Dish alum Gwynn Guilford is alarmed by the spread of Ebola to Lagos:

So far, Ebola has been confined to Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia—war-torn and largely rural west African countries. But Lagos is different; not only is it Africa’s biggest city, with 21 million people. It’s also one of the world’s most densely populated. And perhaps scariest of all, it’s a center for international travel—meaning that if it’s not contained, the virus could easily go global. [Patrick] Sawyer’s was the first-ever recorded case of Ebola in Nigeria, according to the Nigerian Tribune.

So far, the Nigerian government’s efforts to contain it inspire little confidence.

The Bloomberg editors call for a Pan-African response to the outbreak:

There is a reservoir of talent elsewhere in Africa — the doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, lab technicians and administrators in Uganda, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon who have been through this and know how to handle Ebola. By organizing teams of them to help with the current epidemic and pass their skills on to their counterparts in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the World Health Organization could establish a pan-African partnership that central and east Africa could, in turn, rely on down the road.

International donors such as the U.S. and the European Union could help fund and provision the African teams. They could enlist the help of international mining companies present in Guinea, which have certainly extracted value from these countries and have both a humanitarian and an economic interest in stability and ending the epidemic.

Ishaan Tharoor finds that one “of the continuing challenges is getting local populations to abide by the edicts of government authorities and foreign health workers.” A reason this has proven difficult:

The hysteria caused by the spread of Ebola has led also to the spread of rumor and conspiracy theories. Angry crowds have accused foreigners of bringing the virus in their midst: In April, the threat of violence forced [Paris-based medical NGO] MSF to evacuate all its staff from a treatment center in Guinea. In Sierra Leone, which has the largest number of Ebola cases at present, thousands protested over the weekend outside the country’s main Ebola treatment facility in the eastern city of Kenema.

Police had to disperse the crowd with tear gas and a 9-year-old was injured in the leg by a police bullet, Reuters reports. The demonstration was sparked, the news agency claims, by a rumor spread in a nearby market that the disease was a ruse used to justify “cannibalistic rituals” being carried out in the hospital.

Abby Haglage explains that a “full 42 days (double the potential incubation time of the disease) without any new infected are needed before the CDC can declare the outbreak officially over”:

“The concern is the outbreak can be reseeded much like a forest fire with sparks,” says [Stephan] Monroe [of the CDC]. “Until we can identify and interrupt every chain of transmission, we won’t be able to interrupt the outbreak,” he says, reinforcing the need to track those who may have come in contact with carriers. “Until we get all the fires put out, there’s still a possibility that it will reignite.”