Ebola outbreak claims lives of many in Guinea

This story has been updated as the outbreak has grown. For updates on this story, please read below.

First identified in 1976, the often-deadly pathogen known as Ebola is causing devastation yet again, this time in Guinea, Africa.

The last recorded numbers show that more than 120 have died from the outbreak, which is believed to have originated in the forests of southeastern Guinea. Many areas have been hit, including the capital city, Conakry. The hardest hit city, according to a CNN article, is Guekedou, near the borders of Sierra Leone and Liberia. Of the dead, 112 and have been from Guinea, 13 from Liberia and at least 17 were health care workers.

It is the rapidity in the propagation and development of the virus that has the World Health Organization (WHO) calling this particular outbreak one of the “most challenging.”

In a recent CNN article, scientists say that the outbreak has “rapidly evolved” from its origins. Additionally, this outbreak is the first emergence of Ebola in the western Africa region, so many health care providers do not have any prior experience in the treatment of virus. The aid organization, Doctors Without Borders, has joined the effort in helping treat those infected.

Ebola is named after the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it first originated. The pathogen is transmitted within humans by coming in direct contact with bodily fluids or contaminated objects. Researchers are searching for the natural reservoir host of the various strains of Ebola (there are a total of five subspecies that have been identified), but best predictions point at bats. Symptoms of fever, diarrhea, vomiting, joint and muscle aches can develop any time from 2-21 days post-exposure. Some patients may also experience red eyes, coughing, difficulty breathing and internal and external bleeding (hemorrhage). Currently, there are no cures or vaccines available — furthermore, the pathogen has a fatality rate of up to 90%.

Guinea, describes the scene of the medical tents as being similar to H. G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds.”

“In [the book], seemingly invincible invaders from mars are laid low by Earth’s microbes, for which they have no defense. With Ebola, we humans are the invaders,” Gupta said in a recent CNN article. “The sense of being an alien in the world of this virus is jarring.”

Patients are quarantined to receive treatment and to limit the spread of disease. Doctors are taking extra precautions with this outbreak, as recent studies have shown that this is a unique strain of Ebola.

The new strain is worrisome, but evidence shows that the quarantines and treatments are working. Gupta took the time to speak with one of the doctors treating the patients, saying that instead “of the feared 90% death rate, in this outbreak, it’s running closer to 65%.”

The outbreak is “still terrible, no doubt, but also tangible evidence that [the doctors and health officials] are saving lives,” Gupta adds. Reuters confirms these findings, saying the death rate has decreased and that the “outbreak is nearly under control.”

UPDATE, 07/29/14: The first sentence in an article from New Scientist says it all: “The spread continues.” The deadly Ebola epidemic in West Africa has now claimed more than 670 lives in what is being described as the worst outbreak of the disease. It has been reported that two American aid workers in Liberia have also contracted the disease. Read the article for FAQs on Ebola, and how people are trying to stop the spread of the disease.

UPDATE, 08/04/14: BBC reports that the death toll has reached 887 across four West African countries: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. This information comes along the heels of two Americans returning to the United States to be treated at a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. Both U.S. aid workers received an experimental ZMapp serum prior to their evacuation from Liberia. ZMapp has never before been used in humans. To assist with the outbreak, the World Bank has pledged $200 million to fight the outbreak.

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