The Ebola Outbreak: Fast Facts and Resources

The global health world is abuzz this summer with the frightening spread of Ebola, a deadly virus that has emerged in frightening force over the past few months in West Africa. Officials are labeling the outbreak responsible for 826 deaths as of August 4, as organizations across the globe are stepping in to try and contain the spread before the count grows.  As the media coverage continues to escalate, so does the challenge of keeping up with it, especially the quick facts. Read on to get a quick overview, then follow the links under each question for further information.

Ebola Virus. Source: Associated Press

What is Ebola? Ebola is a group of viruses that cause deadly hemorrhagic fevers. According to the WHO, the virus has a case fatality rate of 90%. It can be transmitted by direct contact with blood, body fluids, and tissues of infected people or animals, and is known to be one of the world’s most virulent diseases. The current strain is considered to be the most lethal strain of the group, but in many cases, can be treated if identified.


Background information: Ebola is named after the river in Zaire where it first emerged in 1976. The virus produces a protein called ebolavirus glycoprotein that attacks the body’s cells and creates the hemorrhagic symptoms that often appear in patients. However, not all cases of Ebola are identified with extreme hemorrhaging – instead, the cases generally begin with flu-like symptoms. Therefore, much of the danger of the outbreak lies in the challenge of containing those who carry the virus and avoiding exposure, which often takes place in funeral circumstances or through the work of health care providers.


Where is the outbreak? The cases of this summer’s outbreak have been located along the shared borders of the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. There is fear of the virus spreading after an infected man flew on a commercial airliner from Liberia to Nigeria last week, but as of now, officials have yet to report any cases. On July 31 the CDC issued a travel advisory for the three countries where Ebola has been identified, urging a temporary halt to nonessential travel.


How does this outbreak compare? This year’s outbreak is now officially the largest in history, with over 1,300 infected this year. Past outbreaks have been reported across the world since the first recognition of the disease in 1976. An outbreak in 2000-2001 in Uganda infected 425 individuals, with a 53% death rate reported.  Ebola has been identified in three continents since 1976, and has been a collaborative research project for the CDC and various national health departments for years.


What is happening in the US? Two Americans, who were infected with the Ebola virus while working in Liberia, are being transported to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment this week. A 33-year old American doctor arrived in Atlanta on Saturday and a 59-year old aid worker is scheduled to arrive in the US tomorrow. The news created a stir of responses from individuals afraid of the healthcare system’s abilities to keep the virus contained. A Pentagon spokesman confirmed the move, acknowledging that specially trained teams will be handling the cases. This is the first time an Ebola patient has been brought to the US, according to the CDC.


What does the WHO have to say? The WHO has kept their updates quite frequent, updating their website with response plans and resources as the outbreak has progressed.  Most recently, they informed the public of an intensified Ebola outbreak response plan to be put in place by Dr. Margaret Chen, Director-General of the WHO and the presidents of the West African nations affected.  The $100 million response plan will “require increased resources, in-country medical expertise, regional preparedness and coordination,” says Dr. Chen.


Where can I get more information? All the links above will bring you to articles with coverage of the current outbreak. In addition, the CDC ( and WHO ( websites contain valuable background and updated information.

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