Skip to main content

Ebola epidemic in West Africa 'out of control'

By Danielle Dellorto, CNN
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • There have been 567 Ebola virus cases and 350 deaths since March
  • Ebola virus outbreaks are usually confined to remote areas, but this one is different
  • It can take between two and 21 days for someone to feel sick after exposure

(CNN) -- The deadly Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has hit "unprecedented" proportions, according to relief workers on the ground.

"The epidemic is out of control," Dr. Bart Janssens, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement.

There have been 567 cases and 350 deaths since the epidemic began in March, according to the latest World Health Organization figures.

In April, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta traveled to Conakry, Guinea, to report on what was being done to treat patients and contain the outbreak.

"It took only moments to feel the impact of what was happening here," Gupta wrote after landing in Conakry. "There is a lot we know about Ebola, and it scares us almost as much as what we don't know."

Ebola outbreaks usually are confined to remote areas, making it easier to contain. But this outbreak is different; patients have been identified in 60 locations in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Officials believe the wide footprint of this outbreak is partly because of the close proximity between the jungle where the virus was first identified and cities such as Conakry. The capital in Guinea has a population of 2 million and an international airport.

U.S. President Barack Obama hugs Ebola survivor Nina Pham in the Oval Office of the White House on Friday, October 24. Pham, one of two Texas nurses who were diagnosed with the virus, was declared Ebola-free after being treated at a hospital in Bethesda. U.S. President Barack Obama hugs Ebola survivor Nina Pham in the Oval Office of the White House on Friday, October 24. Pham, one of two Texas nurses who were diagnosed with the virus, was declared Ebola-free after being treated at a hospital in Bethesda.
The Ebola epidemic
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: The Ebola epidemic Photos: The Ebola epidemic

People are traveling without realizing they're carrying the deadly virus. It can take between two and 21 days after exposure for someone to feel sick.

Ebola outbreak not under control
Inside an Ebola isolation ward in Guinea

Ebola is a violent killer. The symptoms, at first, mimic the flu: headache, fever, fatigue. What comes next sounds like something out of a horror movie: significant diarrhea and vomiting, while the virus shuts off the blood's ability to clot.

As a result, patients often suffer internal and external hemorrhaging. Many die in an average of 10 days.

Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, is the only aid organization treating people affected by the virus. Since March, they have sent more than 300 staff members and 40 tons of equipment and supplies to the region to help fight the epidemic.

Still, they warn, it's not enough.

"Despite the human resources and equipment deployed by MSF in the three affected countries, we are no longer able to send teams to the new outbreak sites."

The good news is that Ebola isn't as easily spread as one may think. A patient isn't contagious -- meaning they can't spread the virus to other people -- until they are already showing symptoms.

Serious protective measures

Inside the isolation treatment areas in Conakry, doctors focus on keeping the patients hydrated with IV drips and other liquid nutrients. Health officials have urged residents to seek treatment at the first sign of flu-like symptoms.

There is no cure or vaccine to treat Ebola, but MSF has shown it doesn't have to be a death sentence if it's treated early. Ebola typically kills 90% of patients. This outbreak, the death rate has dropped to roughly 60%.

Gupta describes the scene outside an isolation ward in Guinea:

Before the doctors go into the isolation ward, Gupta says, they stop in a separate tent beforehand to gear up.

Healthcare workers dressed in scrubs and thick white rubber boots. They slipped on blue latex gloves, then a thick yellow impermeable suit, followed by a mask, then a white hood with another mask built into it. A pair of large clear goggles went over the hood, and then a large white apron.

"It has to be this way for these doctors and nurses who knowingly expose themselves to Ebola," Gupta wrote. "But you have to wonder what goes through the minds of the patients, seeing these rubber-clad aliens looming in front of them."

MSF says they'll continue to isolate and treat Ebola patients in West Africa with the resources they have available, but they urge a "massive deployment" by regional governments and aid agencies to help stop the epidemic.

World Health Organization officials say they're planning high-level meetings for the Minister of Health in the subregion July 2-3 to discuss the deployment of additional resources and experts to the area.

The outbreak will be considered contained after 42 days -- twice the incubation period -- with no new Ebola cases.

READ: Get the fast facts on Ebola

READ: We're aliens in Ebola's world

READ: What is Ebola and why does it kill?

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:42 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Successful launch of lunar orbiter, seen as a precursor for a planned mission to the surface of the moon, marks significant advance for the country's space program.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, shot while standing guard at Ottawa's National War Memorial, was known for his easygoing manner and smile.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Non-stop chatter about actress' appearance is nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
CEO's 30-min Putonghua chat is the perfect charm offensive for Facebook's last untapped market.
updated 11:45 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
updated 4:58 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Air New Zealand's new 'Hobbit' safety video stars Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, elves and orcs.
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
updated 11:33 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
updated 1:48 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT