You may have heard in the news over the past few months that there has been an outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. The first registered case was in Guinea in February of 2014. Reports have since noted the spread of the virus to other areas in Guinea, as well as Liberia and Sierra Leone. As of June 24, the CDC noted on their website that ministries of health in the three countries have reported 390 cases in Guinea (this includes 270 fatalities and 260 laboratory confirmed cases); Sierra Leone had 147 laboratory confirmed cases with 34 fatalities; and Liberia reported 34 laboratory confirmed cases and 34 fatal cases.
Genetic analyses of the confirmed cases show that this strain of the virus is closely related (97 percent) to variants of the virus that have been previously identified in Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Response to the outbreak is difficult for many reasons, including the lack of medical and laboratory resources in the regions where it has been discovered. The WHO and other partners have deployed laboratory experts to staff mobile field laboratories in order to provide accurate testing to confirm cases. Other specialized medical personnel have been deployed to treat affected patients and provide education to local communities. There are reports, however, of local medical personnel in Liberia not showing up at work due to fear of contracting the virus because they say they lack the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to adequately protect themselves.
Spread of the virus has been attributed to the ease of contagion in densely populated cities (such as Conakry, Guinea), local traditions and beliefs that have resulted in lack of quarantine and/or removing patients from medical care, and the porous borders and ease of border crossings in the West African region. However, some countries have taken various measures to close borders or restrict movement across borders. The CDC, WHO and MSF (known as Doctors Without Borders in the US) are working with partners on the ground to lead the response to the outbreak.
-Marie Levy spent over five years working at American Society for Clinical Pathology in the Global Outreach department.