Ebola Virus Epidemic or Outbreak?

The Ebola virus is also known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever (Ebola HF). Although it does not cause the heightened effects noted in the 1995 film, Outbreak, it does lead to haemorrhagic fever, causing diarrhea, vomiting, muscle pain/weakness, organ failure and internal/external bleeding. It’s a deadly disease that, as of this moment, has no cure. Treatments involve stabilizing the patient and keeping up their fluids while treating symptoms. Not everyone dies from the virus, but the difference between the patients who survive and those that die is yet unknown, making it difficult to predict who will make it.

In Februrary of 2014, an outbreak of the Ebola virus began to spread around Guinea in West Africa. As of today, there have been an approximate total of 151 cases and 99 deaths from the disease in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Together the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), European Commission and Economic Community of West African States have done everything in their power to aid the affected areas.

Mariano Lugli, Doctors Without Borders project coordinator, has said, “We are facing an epidemic of a magnitude never before seen in terms of the distribution of cases in the country: Gueckedou, Macenta Kissidougou, Nzerekore, and now Conakry.” Considering the fast and wide-bound spread of the Ebola virus in the three West African countries, things have reached a frightening level. However, is it actually an epidemic? Worse than that, could fears of an Ebola pandemic be warranted?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Ebola virus situation in West Africa should continue to be considered an outbreak at this time. Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for WHO, stated that there have been much bigger outbreaks of the virus. He went on to say, “What the outbreak is and what we are dealing with is, is limited foci and limited geographical area and only a few chains of transmission. For the moment, we speak of this as an outbreak.” As for concerns about pandemic or possible travel/trade restrictions, Hartl had this to add, “WHO does not recommend any travel or trade restrictions. They don’t make public health sense.”

The Ebola virus is highly contagious, but it is not airborne. Ebola is transmitted by coming in contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids. Fear in the affected areas has lead to people refusing to shake hands or even visit one another. It has also caused a backlash against teams attempting to help patients. The terrified population has been said to blame the medical personnel of bringing the Ebola virus in with them.

The Ebola outbreak has proven to be deadly, and will likely continue for a while as medical personnel attempt to gain the upper hand over the virus. In the meantime, it is not technically an epidemic and wide-spread pandemic seems unlikely.