Ebola Outbreak Worsens with Reports of Looting, US Scare
(NEW YORK) -- The Ebola outbreak continues to spiral out of control amid reports of looting at a Liberian health center and the isolation of a traveler from Sierra Leone in the U.S.
The virus has killed at least 1,145 and sickened 982 more, according to numbers released Friday by the World Health Organization. An updated outbreak toll is expected soon.
The outbreak is already the deadliest on record and has shown no signs of slowing. About 42.5 percent of all Ebola deaths since the virus was discovered in 1976 have occurred since March 2014, according to WHO data.
Here are some things you should know about the outbreak as fears continue to mount in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and beyond:
More Americans Tested for Ebola
A 30-year-old woman in New Mexico is being tested for Ebola, according to state officials.
The woman had recently traveled to Sierra Leone and arrived at the hospital with a sore throat, headache, muscle aches and fever, according to the New Mexico Department of Health, which is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to rule out Ebola.
Potential Ebola patients at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, Johns Hopkins Medicine in Maryland and an undisclosed hospital in Ohio have all tested negative for Ebola over the past several weeks. The CDC had sent a health alert to hospitals across the country urging them to ask patients about their travel history to help identify potential Ebola cases.
As of Aug. 5, the CDC had tested blood samples for six possible Ebola patients in the United States. They were all negative.
Officials Request Exit Screenings at Airports, Seaports
The World Health Organization on Monday requested exit screenings at international airports, seaports and land crossings in all countries affected by the Ebola outbreak.
“Any person with an illness consistent with [Ebola virus disease] should not be allowed to travel unless the travel is part of an appropriate medical evacuation,” WHO said in a statement. “There should be no international travel of Ebola contacts or cases, unless the travel is part of an appropriate medical evacuation.”
Ebola symptoms include fever, weakness, muscle pain and sore throat before they progress to vomiting, diarrhea and rash. Some people may also experience bleeding.
The WHO Ebola Emergency Committee advised against international travel or trade restrictions at this time.
Officials Say Outbreak Is ‘Vastly’ Underestimated
The Ebola outbreak is already the deadliest on record, and WHO officials say the impact may be far worse than reported.
The number of known infections -- currently 2,127 -- “vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak,” according to staff at outbreak sites.
The agency said it's scaling up its response in "recognition of the extraordinary measures needed, on a massive scale, to contain the outbreak in settings characterized by extreme poverty, dysfunctional health systems, a severe shortage of doctors, and rampant fear."
Governments Are Reviving the ‘Cordon Sanitaire’
Officials from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have implemented a “cordon sanitaire” or sanitary barrier -- a cross-border isolation zone designed to contain people with the highest infection risk.
The tactic, used to prevent the spread of plague in medieval times, literally blocks off an area thought to contain 70 percent of the epidemic. But some experts say there’s little proof that isolation zones can prevent the spread of disease.
“It may not be sufficiently structured so it can prevent people from leaving,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
Fearful Communities Are Shunning Survivors
An estimated 47 percent of people infected in the outbreak have survived the virus, according to WHO data. But they face fear and shame from their communities.
The Ebola virus can only be spread through contact with bodily secretions such as blood, urine or sweat. But misinformation is rampant in areas hardest hit by the virus, health officials said.
Drug Companies Are Rushing to Provide Treatments
The growing outbreak has left pharmaceutical companies scrambling to test drugs that could treat and prevent the infection.
There is currently no drug approved to fight Ebola, but WHO has allowed medical professionals to use experimental or untested medications in a last ditch effort to save lives.
One drug, an experimental serum known as ZMapp, has been used to treat three patients: American health workers Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, and a Spanish priest. Brantly and Writebol survived but the Spanish priest did not.
Another drug, an Ebola vaccine developed by the U.S. National Institute for Health, is scheduled to be tested on humans for the first time in September.
FDA Warns Against Fake Ebola Treatments
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning people to avoid fake Ebola treatments and vaccines being sold online. The agency said products claiming to protect people from the infection began popping up online after the outbreak began in March.
“There are currently no FDA-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent or treat Ebola,” the agency said in a statement. “Although there are experimental Ebola vaccines and treatments under development, these investigational products are in the early stages of product development, have not yet been fully tested for safety or effectiveness, and the supply is very limited."
"There are no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products specifically for Ebola available for purchase on the Internet," the FDA added. "By law, dietary supplements cannot claim to prevent or cure disease.”
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