The World Health Organization has officially declared the Ebola epidemic in West Africa an international health emergency. The death toll has reached almost 1,000 in four countries (932 at last count). Yesterday, the U.S. ordered the families of diplomats to leave Liberia due to the danger of the virus.
Reuters reports that Margaret Chan, the head of the WHO, told reporters, “the declaration … will galvanize the attention of leaders of all countries at the top level. It cannot be done by the ministries of health alone.”
However, the organization is also stressing that the virus can be contained if the proper steps are taken. While the fatality rate for those who contract the disease is high (about 60% for this particular strain), it’s actually relatively hard to catch it. The incubation period is long, up to 21 days, but people with the disease aren’t usually contagious until they begin exhibiting symptoms. Even then, it takes contact with infected body fluids to contract it.
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Here’s Reuters with more about experimental treatments:
After an experimental drug was administered to two U.S. charity workers who were infected in Liberia, Ebola specialists urged the WHO to offer such drugs to Africans. The U.N. agency has asked medical ethics experts to explore this option next week.
David Heymann, a former WHO official and now director of the Chatham House Centre on Global Health Security, who this week urged the WHO to show greater leadership and to consider allowing the use of experimental drugs for Africans affected by Ebola, said governments should step up their response.
The major message, he said, was that the three known measures that stop Ebola outbreaks – hospital infection control, community understanding of risks of infection, and contact tracing – “appear not to have been robustly enough applied”.