Ebola’s fatal toll

July 16, 2014

The latest outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus is getting even worse. The death toll from the worst ever outbreak in West Africa has risen to 603 since February, with at least 68 deaths reported from three countries in the region in the last week alone, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday. Hardest hit: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The graphic below shows the illness’s fatal swath since 1976, with Sierra Leone currently recording the highest number of deaths: 52. Liberia reported 13 and Guinea 3, according to the WHO figures.

The problem with stopping the spread is not just that the hemorrhagic fever has no known cure. Global health authorities fighting against the latest outbreak in countries with traditionally poor health care systems also have to contend with in-country hostility toward foreign medical professionals and viral-transmitting local customs such as eating bush meat or hugging and kissing victims of the virus, according to Reuters. (The virus first appeared in 1976 near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo and is believed to have been spread originally by fruit bats. Gorillas, chimpanzees, forest antelopes and porcupines can also spread the virus.)

The outbreak has caused humanitarian problems too, with Ivory Coast border authorities blocking the return of 400 Ivorian refugees from Liberia for fear they’ll bring the disease with them. The WHO says it is not recommending any travel or trade restrictions in the affected countries and is mobilizing authorities in the affected countries to provide a better welcome for foreign doctors trying to treat the infected. In spite of these efforts, WHO spokesman Dan Epstein expects it to take “several months” for the organization to get a grip on the epidemic.

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