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Is West Africa’s Ebola outbreak uncontainable?

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The ongoing Ebola epidemic in West Africa may persist for a year or more, according to a Georgetown University viral outbreaks expert, who recently visited the region for several weeks.

"I don't believe that our traditional methods of being able to control and stop outbreaks in rural areas … is going to be effective in most of the cities," commented Dr. Daniel Lucey, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Medical Center in a Sept. 3 online streaming discussion at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC. "I think that this outbreak is going to go on even longer than a year," he said.

Lucey’s discussion was quoted September 4 by Live Science.

Lucey, who spent three weeks caring for Ebola patients in the affected region and training on-site medical personnel in protective measures to minimize disease transmission, added that he believed the Ebola epidemic would likely continue unless a vaccine or preventative drug and effective treatment were developed in time.

His observation counters a recent World Health Organization (WHO) plan to curtail the transmission of the deadly virus within six to nine months.

What is the Ebola virus?

Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever is a dangerous and contagious viral disease that commonly affects humans and other primates.

Symptoms of Ebola include abdominal pain, appetite loss, diarrhea, fever, headache, muscle pain, vomiting, weakness, and more. Initially, a stricken individual may appear to have a severe flu. These symptoms tend to appear from two to 21 days after exposure. Although Ebola is often fatal, some patients do recover.

Ebola is primarily spread through infected bodily fluids, either directly or via contaminated materials (such as hypodermic needles or other medical supplies). The virus may be transmitted between humans, or the infection may come from an affected animal.

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Where is the Ebola outbreak occurring?

The latest epidemic, one of the largest and deadliest ever recorded, is primarily affecting Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. At least one case has also been identified in Senegal. This may also be the first such outbreak to spread from rural locations to major metropolitan areas.

So far, more than 3,000 suspected Ebola cases have been identified, with more than 1,750 confirmed scientifically and more than 4,600 related deaths.

Earlier Ebola epidemics include those in the Congo and Uganda in 2012 and another in Uganda in 2011.

Disease prevention education, infection control measures, and ample supplies of adequate protective equipment (particularly for medical professionals) may help cut off the current Ebola outbreak and any potential future ones. These steps are particularly difficult in underdeveloped areas of the world.

Ultimately, an effective and manageable treatment and cure for Ebola are needed.