West Africa Faces ‘Unprecedented Epidemic’ Of One Of The World’s Deadliest Infectious Diseases

CREDIT: AP Photo/Kjell Gunnar Beraas, MSF

Healthcare workers from Doctors Without Borders prepare isolation and treatment areas for their Ebola operations in Guinea

Health officials are warning that Guinea is currently facing an “unprecedented epidemic” of the Ebola virus, a highly contagious infectious disease that the country may not have the resources to combat. More than 70 people in the Western African nation have died from the virus — which causes vomiting, diarrhea, and external bleeding — and 11 deaths have also been confirmed in neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia.

“We are facing an epidemic of a magnitude never before seen in terms of the distribution of cases in the country,” Mariano Lugli, the emergency coordinator for the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, noted.

The Ebola virus was first discovered in the 1970s in central Africa. There are several different strains of the virus, each named after the region where they originated. The so-called Zaire virus, which is the strain currently infecting people in Western Africa, kills about 90 percent of the people who contract it.

There is no vaccine currently available for the deadly virus, and no cure. So far, at least four health care workers have died while working to contain the Ebola outbreak.

The situation is particularly concerning because the virus has made its way to Conakry, the capital of Guinea, where hundreds of thousands of people live in close quarters. Previous Ebola outbreaks have mainly been concentrated in rural parts of central African countries, where the virus has been easier to contain. This is also the furthest west that the Zaire strain has ever been documented. Authorities in Guinea have launched an investigation to try to determine the source of the outbreak.

Furthermore, residents of West African nations face significant barriers to health services; some countries in the region average less than ten physicians per 100,000 inhabitants. As Reuters points out, “one of the most lethal infectious diseases known to man could be spreading in an impoverished region ill-equipped to cope.”

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are monitoring the situation and may eventually step in to assist with the work on the ground. The agency may help by compiling educational materials for people who live in regions affected by the recent outbreak.

“A lot of the education process is helping people understand if someone is sick they need to go to the hospital so people can be treated in a setting where they have equipment to protect themselves and others,” Dr. Barbara Knust, an epidemiologist in the CDC’s viral special pathogens branch, told Fox News. “We also stress that if someone dies, funeral arrangements have to be made in a way that people preparing body for funeral are protected — wearing gloves, using disinfectant and other measures.”

As health officials are scrambling to contain the current outbreak, they’re not ruling out the possibility that Ebola could spread further. Last week, a Canadian man who recently traveled to West Africa was hospitalized, sparking some speculation that the virus had made its way to the Americas. Since then, however, tests have determined that he’s not actually infected with the deadly virus. In response to that scare, the CDC has developed guidelines in case an infected traveler brings Ebola to the U.S.