MSF and WHO struggling to keep up with the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa

The first outbreak of the Ebola virus in humans took place in 1976.  Ebola has one of the highest death rates of any virus with between 50% and 90% of those infected dying.  The reason, the virus hasn’t spread too widely are because the virus is so lethal it usually kills itself out and none can continue to spread the virus.  Symptoms of the ebola virus include fever, diarrhoea and internal bleeding.  There are no specific treatments for ebola, however ensuring patients are kept hydrated helps the recovery process.

The current (and most serious) epidemic started in Guinea at the beginning of this year, and there have been cases in 60 different countries.  Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have said the disease is ‘out of control’ in West Africa.  According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) it has so far infected 567 people killing 350 of them (over 60%).

It is important to contain the virus and prevent it from mutating.  At the moment, the virus is dangerous because of the lethality rather than ease of transmission.  If this changes, the situation will become far worse.  The disease is spread through exposure to bodily fluids, however this is poorly understood in the affected countries.  A MSF emergency coordinator said that ‘Education and training are key to stopping this outbreak’.  MSF is really stretched with a desperate need for more health workers in the field.  Key strategies for containing infection include wearing protective clothing at all times around contaminated patients, washing hands frequently and disposing of the bodies in a safe way to prevent continued transmission of ebola.

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