WHO says Ebola Outbreak Spreading 'Faster Than Our Efforts to Control it'

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WHO says Ebola Outbreak Spreading 'Faster Than Our Efforts to Control it'

Further spread of virus would be 'catastrophic,' agency warns

Workers fighting the Ebola outbreak in Guinea in March (Photo: flickr/cc/European Commission DG ECHO)

Workers fighting the Ebola outbreak in Guinea in March (Photo: flickr/cc/European Commission DG ECHO)

After announcing plans to step up efforts in the fight against the worst-ever Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Friday that they are at a 'turning point in the outbreak response' and must act swiftly to prevent a further spread of the deadly virus.
 
The outbreak—which has mainly affected Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—has so far infected 1,323 people and killed 729 since it was first identified in March. Addressing the presidents of the three African nations on Friday, general director of the WHO Dr. Margaret Chan described the outbreak as "the largest ever in the nearly four-decade history of the disease" as she offered a "frank assessment" of the current crisis.

"First," Chan said, "this outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it. If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries." As I said before, this meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response.

Additionally, she added, "the outbreak is affecting a large number of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers, one of the most essential resources for containing an outbreak. To date, more than 60 health care workers have lost their lives in helping others."

Liberia has closed its schools and put government employees on leave, while Sierra Leone deployed soldiers to quarantine neighborhoods and has banned public meetings for a 60 day period unless their purpose is to educate people on the virus.

On Thursday, as part of its action plan, the WHO announced a $100 million dollar effort to stop the outbreak, including the deployment of 50 additional health experts to help manage the agency's response  in the region.

Also on Thursday, the U.S. issued the highest level travel warning for the three African nations afflicted by the outbreak, although the Centers for Disease Control Director Thomas Frieden stressed that it was not imposed so much out fear of a spread to the U.S. as to facilitate medical and other response personnel's ability to address the situation.

“We have quarantine stations at all the major ports of entry,” Frieden said. “Ebola poses little risk to the U.S. general population.”

Meanwhile, the announcement that two Americans who have contracted the disease while in Liberia will be flown to U.S. hospitals early next week to be treated triggered a fearful response on social media, a reaction that infectious disease specialist Dr. William Shaffner said was unwarranted.

"This concern about the introduction of Ebola and its possible spread in the United States has been an aspect of this story that has taken off and somewhat surprised those of us in infectious disease and public health," he said.

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