TIME Infectious Disease

Ebola Death Toll Tops 3,000

More than 6,500 cases have been confirmed

At least 3,080 people have died of Ebola in West Africa, the World Health Organization said Friday, bringing the death toll from the worst Ebola ever above 3,000 for the first time. More than 6,500 total cases have been confirmed.

The newly-released figure, which includes deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, comes after a week of worsening news about the deadly disease. Estimates released Tuesday suggest that as many as 1.4 million people may be infected by the end of January under worst-case-scenario circumstances.

Under the best of circumstances, the disease will still have wrecked havoc on a region that has been wholly unprepared for the public health disaster. Currently, countries from around the world are contributing millions of dollars to build facilities to treat patients. WHO officials noted in a statement Friday that current heath facilities are overwhelmed and struggling to handle routine ailments.

“The current situation is so dire that, in several areas that include capital cities, many of these common diseases and health conditions are barely being managed at all,” the WHO said.

TIME Infectious Disease

Ebola ‘Pretty Much Contained’ in Senegal and Nigeria

Christopher Dye, Director of Strategy of the World Health Organization speaks to the media about Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa, during a press conference, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva on Sept. 22, 2-14.
Christopher Dye, Director of Strategy of the World Health Organization speaks to the media about Ebola Virus Disease in West Africa, during a press conference, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva on Sept. 22, 2-14. Salvatore Di Nolfi—EPA

Good news for containment of an outbreak that has killed more than 2,800 people

The outbreaks of Ebola in Senegal and Nigeria have been “pretty much contained,” the World Health Organization said Monday.

There have been no new confirmed cases of Ebola in Senegal since the first case was reported Aug. 29, and the last case of Ebola reported in Nigeria was Sept. 8, the WHO’s regional office for Africa said in a statement. The news comes on the same day the WHO released details from the second meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on Ebola. One of the top conclusions from the group was that travel and trade should continue in West Africa:

“Flight cancellations and other travel restrictions continue to isolate affected countries resulting in detrimental economic consequences, and hinder relief and response efforts risking further international spread,” the committee said.

The Committee reiterated WHO stances on making sure health care workers are protected from possible infections and ensuring people who are quarantined still have access to food and water.

There are currently 5,833 cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Senegal, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (though the DRC outbreak is thought to be unrelated to the others). Among those cases, 2,833 people have died.

 

TIME ebola

U.N. Chief: ‘Ebola Has Gone Beyond Health Issues’

The virus threatens political stability in West Africa, Ban Ki-moon warns

The Secretary-General of the U.N., Ban Ki-moon, said Tuesday that the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has “gone beyond health issues” and could even affect the political stability of the region.

“It has gone to the areas of affecting social and economic situations, it may even affect political stability if this is not properly contained and properly treated,” he said during a press briefing.

The Ebola virus has killed more than 2,400 people and there have been nearly 5,000 reported cases of the disease.

Ban said the U.N. is “taking the lead” in global efforts to fight Ebola, the Associated Press reports.

He will attend an emergency meeting Thursday between the U.S. and the World Health Organization to discuss a global “action plan” to contain the outbreak.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama confirmed increased U.S. efforts to contain the spread of Ebola.

TIME Infectious Disease

Obama on Ebola: ‘The World Is Looking to Us’

US President Barack Obama makes a statement following meetings at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sept.16, 2014 in Atlanta.
US President Barack Obama makes a statement following meetings at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sept.16, 2014 in Atlanta. Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images

Obama confirms U.S. efforts to lead the charge against the Ebola virus sweeping through West Africa

President Barack Obama confirmed the U.S.’s renewed and bolstered efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in a press conference Tuesday at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

The U.S. has committed to sending a deployment of 3,000 U.S. military forces and over $500 million in defense spending to West Africa, a response the President says is a national-security priority since the epidemic has “profound security implications.”

“Faced with this outbreak, the world is looking to us, the United States, and it’s a responsibility that we embrace,” said the President. “It’s a potential threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economies break down, if people panic. That has profound effects on all of us, even if we are not directly contracting the disease.”

Obama spent the day at the CDC headquarters to talk about the U.S. response — called Operation United Assistance — and to thank health care workers dealing with the outbreak. Before leaving Washington to travel down to Atlanta, Obama met with Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly and his wife Amber. Brantly was in the nation’s capital to testify before Congress about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Brantly contracted Ebola while treating patients in Liberia as a missionary doctor for the organization Samaritan’s Purse. “[I am] grateful to [Dr. Brantly] and his family for the service he has rendered to people who are a lot less lucky than all of us,” Obama said Tuesday.

During his Atlanta trip, Obama also met the Emory University Hospital doctors who have been treating American patients with Ebola evacuated to the U.S.

The WHO has reported 4,963 cases of Ebola and 2,453 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Obama says the U.S. has four central goals: to control the outbreak, address the ripple effect, coordinate a broader global response, and urgently build up a public-health system for the countries for the future. “This massive ramp-up of support from the United States is precisely the kind of transformational change we need to get a grip on the outbreak and begin to turn it around,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization in a statement sent to media.

As part of the U.S. effort to combat the outbreak, Department of Defense personnel will offer training and epidemic logistics. At the request of the Liberian government, the U.S. will set up a military command center in Liberia, led by Major General Darryl Williams, commander of U.S. Army forces in Africa. The Pentagon is also poised to deliver 130,000 sets of personal protective equipment and thousands of kits that can be used for disease diagnostics. Africa Command engineers will be constructing several additional treatment facilities and more than 1,000 beds, and will train up to 500 health care workers a week. In his press conference, Obama reiterated that the threat of Ebola spread in the U.S. is extremely low.

“The reality is that this epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better,” concluded Obama. “The United States of America intends to do more … We’re going to continue to make sure that the world understands the need for them to step alongside us.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Timeline: The Worst Ebola Outbreak in History

As Ebola continues to ravage West Africa, follow this outbreak's most critical moments

TIME

Ebola Cases in Congo Have Doubled Over the Past Week

Patients are being treated in temporary isolation units

The incidence of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo has spread, with the number of cases doubling over the past week, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported Thursday.

The Congo virus is of a separate strain from the one currently rampaging through West Africa, where the disease has claimed over 2,200 lives in the past nine months.

There were 31 new cases reported in Congo between Sept. 2 and Sept. 9, bringing the total number to 62. All of the infections are confined to four villages in one county and are linked to one initial case reported to WHO on Aug. 26 — by grim coincidence the anniversary of the discovery of Ebola in Congo, which was then known as Zaire, 38 years ago.

Patients are currently being treated in temporary isolation units and a mobile laboratory has been installed. A total 35 people, including seven health workers, have died so far.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Thursday that the three West African nations worst hit by Ebola face a fiscal blowout of $100 million to $130 million each, and that Sierra Leone’s annual growth this year will decrease from 11.3% to 8%, Liberia’s from 5.9% to 2.5% and Guinea’s from 3.5% to 2.4%, due to the epidemic.

“All three countries do have IMF programs,” IMF deputy spokesman William Murray said at a press briefing. “We’re in active engagement right now with the authorities to help determine how we can cover the additional financing requirement that they are facing.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Ebola Outbreak Is a ‘Serious Threat’ to Liberia’s Existence, Says Minister

A street artist, Stephen Doe, paints an educational mural to inform people about the symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, on Sept. 8, 2014 Dominique Faget—AFP/Getty Images

The epidemic reveals the nation's "persistent and profound institutional weaknesses"

The Ebola virus is “spreading like wildfire and devouring everything in its path,” Liberia’s Defense Minister Brownie Samukai told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, adding that the outbreak poses a “serious threat” to the war-torn nation’s very existence.

Samukai’s words were echoed by the U.N. Secretary-General’s special representative Karin Landgren, who said Liberia is facing its gravest threat since its decade-long civil war ended in 2003. She deemed the outbreak a “latter-day plague” and its spread “merciless.”

Liberia is worst hit among the nations affected by the current Ebola epidemic with at least 1,200 recorded deaths. Over the past three weeks, the country has experienced a 68% bump in infections and the World Health Organization estimates the surge will continue to accelerate in coming weeks.

There is a severe lack of hospital beds, and suspected victims of Ebola are reportedly turned back to their communities or left waiting outside medical facilities, aggravating the risk of further contagion.

With much state apparatus still in tatters after its devastating civil conflict, Liberia is especially ill prepared to deal with a crisis of this unprecedented scale. At least 160 health workers have been infected with the virus and 79 have died, in a nation that counted a paltry single doctor per 100,000 inhabitants at its onset. Landgren pointed out that the challenge also goes beyond the medical response.

“The enormous task of addressing Ebola has revealed persistent and profound institutional weaknesses, including in the security sector,” she said. “As the demands pile on, the police face monumental challenges in planning and implementing large scale operations.”

Marten Grunditz, chairman of the Liberia Configuration of the U.N. Peacebuilding Commission, emphasized the critical need for continued international support for Liberia’s postconflict transition. The current crisis has already taken a toll on the country’s fragile economy. Only two international airlines still service Liberia, Samukai told the U.N. council, while President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told an audience at Harvard University over Skype that several mining and agricultural companies had scaled down or shuttered their operations.

“This will cost us quite a bit and it will take us some time to get back to the level of progress that we had,” she said, according to Reuters.

Experts say the most likely explanation for the Ebola outbreak is the consumption of infected wild animals, the so-called bush meat. In a model by Oxford University, published in the journal eLife on Monday, 15 African countries are at risk of similar transmissions — a larger number than was previously assumed.

“This does not mean that transmission to humans is inevitable in these areas; only that all the environmental and epidemiological conditions suitable for an outbreak occur there,” the study’s author, Nick Golding, told the Washington Post.

The U.N. Secretary-General’s special representative Karin Landgren holds a press conference after a Security Council briefing and consultation on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

TIME Infectious Disease

Ebola Cases Spiking in West Africa As Death Toll Nears 2,300

People wait to be admitted into an Ebola treatment facility in Monrovia, Liberia, on Sept. 5, 2014.
People wait to be admitted into an Ebola treatment facility in Monrovia, Liberia, on Sept. 5, 2014. Daniel Berehulak—The New York Times/Redux

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone together experienced a 49% increase in cases in just the last three weeks

Cases of Ebola in West Africa are continuing to rise exponentially, with Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone together experiencing a 49% increase in cases in just the last three weeks.

New data released Tuesday by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that there are now a total of 4,269 cases in the three countries, including 2,288 deaths. Liberia alone has experienced a 68% increase in cases in the last three weeks. Localized clusters of Ebola have also been emerging in Nigeria and Senegal, where authorities have reported a combined total of 24 cases and eight deaths.

On Monday, the WHO released data on the troubling number of cases in Liberia, citing concerns that families riding in taxis or motorbikes to hospitals are spreading disease that way. Fourteen of Liberia’s 15 counties now have confirmed cases of the disease, and so far 152 health care workers have been infected, with 79 dying from the disease. The organization says it expects thousands of new cases in the next three weeks, and has called for all involved parties to at a minimum, triple their efforts.

Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that it is helping the African Union mobilize an additional 100 African health workers to help fight the outbreak with $10 million of funding. So far the U.S. has spent a reported $100 million responding to the outbreak.

The WHO has said that Liberia in particular needs better ideas for containing the disease. “Conventional Ebola control interventions are not having an adequate impact in Liberia, though they appear to be working elsewhere in areas of limited transmission, most notably in Nigeria, Senegal, and the Democratic Republic of Congo,” the WHO wrote in a recent update.

Dr. Kent Brantly, one of the American Ebola survivors who was infected in Liberia, agrees that regular methods aren’t working there. In an essay for TIME, Brantly wrote: “People are fearful of isolation units because “that is where you go to die.”…Perhaps we need to find a way to provide safe home care that protects the caregivers.”

Meanwhile in the U.S., Emory University Hospital received a third Ebola patient to its isolation unit on Tuesday morning. This is the fourth patient to be evacuated from West Africa to be treated with the disease in the U.S.

TIME Infectious Disease

Emory University Hospital Will Receive Another Ebola Patient

Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, seen in august 2014.
Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, seen in August 2014. Jessica McGowan—Getty Images

This will be the hospital's third patient with Ebola in the past couple months

Emory University Hospital will be receiving another patient with Ebola from West Africa on Tuesday, the hospital confirmed.

The hospital was informed that the patient is being transported via air ambulance to be brought into Emory’s isolation unit. The hospital says it does not know what time the patient will arrive but that the isolation unit will be the same ward where the infectious-disease team successfully treated Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who both survived the disease.

“We are bound by patient confidentiality and have no information regarding the status of the incoming patient,” the Atlanta-based hospital said in a statement. The incoming patient will be the fourth patient to be treated with Ebola in the U.S. Currently, another patient is being treated for the disease in an isolation unit in Omaha.

The hospital’s isolation unit was specifically built with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in order to treat patients exposed to serious communicable diseases. Since the Emory University Hospital campus is just minutes away from CDC headquarters, the hospital has a relationship with the CDC and a commitment to treat their health care workers. However, both the patients the hospital has treated in the past were independent health care missionaries.

As TIME previously reported, Emory’s unit has been around for over a decade, and the physicians in the unit practice for these types of patients multiple times a year. Read more about the unit here.

TIME Infectious Disease

Potential Vaccine Shows Some Promise, but the Spread of Ebola Is Accelerating

Participants arrive at the opening of a consultation of international experts on potential Ebola therapies and vaccines in Geneva
Participants arrive at the opening of a consultation of international experts on potential Ebola therapies and vaccines in Geneva September 4, 2014. Denis Balibouse / Reuters—REUTERS

Half the people who now have Ebola got it in the past month

A study, published Sunday in Nature Medicine, details promising results of a possible Ebola vaccine following trials carried out on monkeys.

The animals received “complete short-term and partial long-term protection” from a single shot, and “durable” immunity after being given booster shots two months later, researchers said. Human trials will begin this week, and assessments of its efficacy and safety are expected by early November.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Friday that it would attempt to fast-track the use of experimental drugs to combat a West African epidemic now virtually out of control.

About half of the estimated 4,000 people who have contracted Ebola since the outbreak began in March have been infected over the past month. The real number of infected is likely much higher, since that figure only accounts for lab-confirmed cases. If the accelerated speed of the spread continues, WHO’s projection of 20,000 cases by October could well be surpassed.

New cases have been confirmed in Nigeria and Senegal, and a grave lack of hospital beds in Liberia is sending scores of suspected victims back to their homes, severely aggravating the risk of death and additional contagion. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced Thursday it would build 10 Ebola centers with 100 beds each. The European Union also said Friday that it would pledge $181.3 million to the worst-hit countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea — but huge problems remain.

“We could get a bunch of tents and beds in here in no time,” Jeremy Konyndyk, director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, told the Wall Street Journal. “The hard part is who staffs those beds.”

WHO calculates that it takes between 200 and 250 health workers to care for 80 Ebola patients. But the process of attracting personnel to assist in the battle has proved to be difficult. For now, many infected people unable to receive hospital care are relying on home treatment kits provided by USAID.

Doctors Without Borders is urgently looking to hire additional workers, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is initiating a recruitment and training program.

If an American doctor who is currently being treated for Ebola continues to make progress, it is possible that recruitment efforts will be given a slight boost. However, the recovery of Dr. Rick Sacra is by no means certain.

The 51-year-old obstetrician and experienced missionary worker was infected on assignment in Liberia, and arrived at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha on Friday. He is weak, but in a stable condition, and is showing encouraging signs to staff.

“He’s made a few jokes,” Dr. Phil Smith, one of the doctors tending to Sacra, told AP on Sunday. “In my experience, that’s a good sign. But it’s too early to say he has turned a corner.”

His wife issued a statement Saturday asking the world to continue to focus on the wider outbreak and not just her husband’s illness.

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