It started in Guinea earlier this year, when several people died of the Ebola virus disease. From there it spread across West Africa to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and now more than 1,100 people have contracted the quickly-spreading disease, including two Americans. While there have been Ebola outbreaks before, with over 660 people dead from the virus, this outbreak is considered the deadliest ever.
Ebola is extremely deadly, normally killing 90 percent of the people it infects, but early treatment has helped reduce that number to 60 percent. The virus is spread through bodily fluids, which makes health workers particularly vulnerable. Early symptoms include fever, headache and fatigue, and once a person begins showing symptoms, they have become contagious. Once the disease progresses, victims exhibit vomiting, diarrhea and internal bleeding.
Liberia has closed its borders in order to halt the disease from spreading further, but there are fears that it will move into Nigeria, one of the most populous countries in Africa, where it could spread like wildfire. Some experts are worried about a recent Ebola death in Nigeria – the only case in the country so far – which was brought by a traveler flying from Liberia to Lagos. Since Lagos is an international travel hub, it is the perfect place for Ebola to hitch a ride into any number of countries. Meanwhile, in Liberia over the past week it was confirmed that two Americans have been infected while working in the country. Doctor Sheik Humarr Khan, who has played a key role in fighting the disease, also fell ill earlier this month.
While there is always a risk that the virus could move outside of Africa and onto other continents, experts say that the risk is fairly low. For now, the people who are most vulnerable are those living and working in West Africa. Currently, there is no cure for the disease, but countries are working to increase awareness, limit public gatherings and establish preventative and testing centers to help contain the outbreak.