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Epidemic: Ebola deaths reach 337 in 3 countries in 'most challenging' outbreak

The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated their case count in the Ebola outbreak in western Africa, noting that the death toll has reached a staggering 337 individuals thus far.

Al Jazeera reported June 19 that the Ebola virus is suspected to have infected over 500 people so far in Guinea, where it is believed that the outbreak originated, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. The outbreak is the largest on record.

Most of the cases uncovered so far have been detected in Guinea. Most of the deaths have occurred there as well. This stands to reason, as the Ebola virus, a horrific hemorrhagic contagion, has no known cure and, according to the WHO, has a fatality rate of 90 percent.

The most recent cases have come from Sierra Leone and Liberia. There previously had been no known cases in those countries for two months.

Fadela Chaib, a UN health agency spokeswoman, wrote Al Jazeera in an email: "This is a complex outbreak involving multiple locations in three countries with a lot of cross-border movement among the communities.

"This makes this one of the most challenging Ebola outbreaks ever."

As it stands, this particular Ebola outbreak is the first to encompass three countries. It is also the first time Ebola has struck in West Africa. Efforts to contain the virus to a limited area has been hampered and, as Chaib noted, cross-border movement has undoubtedly contributed to its spread.

Chaib also noted that more work was necessary to hospitalize and isolate the sick, not to mention tracking down suspected persons the infected have come into contact with to be monitored for symptoms and possible treatment.

There has never been a death caused by the Ebola virus in the United States, although several employees at quarantine facility in the D.C. suburb of Reston, Virginia, were infected by research monkeys carrying the disease. The variant, Ebola Reston, proved non-fatal.

However, a pandemic spread of the hemorrhagic virus is an international concern. With an incubation period of a few days to two weeks before symptoms begin noticeably presenting within an individual and international travel as easy as hopping on a plane, affected areas are often cut off from the rest of the world, outgoing commerce diligently monitored.

The current Ebola outbreak began in February. Within a month, it quickly spread and killed 80 people.

"We are facing an epidemic of a magnitude never before seen in terms of the distribution of cases in the country," Mariano Lugli, coordinator of the Doctors Without Borders project in Conakry, Guinea, told Reuters in March.

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