As cases of Ebola virus continue to climb in West African countries, the World Health Organization is considering the biggest Ebola outbreak in history a “public health risk” to other nations, referring to the health systems in place to contain it in affected countries as “weak.” Except for two Americans with Ebola who were infected in Africa and were flown to the United States for treatment, all known current cases of Ebola remain in four West African nations.
“A coordinated, international response is deemed essential to stop and reverse the international spread of Ebola,” according to a prepared WHO statement, which referred to the outbreak as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”
New cases of Ebola and deaths from the often-fatal infectious viral disease have occurred in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. To date, the totals are 1,134 confirmed cases and 622 deaths, not including 654 “probable” cases and 339 “suspect” deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is reporting it is sending extra disease control specialists to help with the outbreak in the four African countries.
The WHO statement notes that particular concerns about the outbreak are:
- Workers are inexperienced in dealing with outbreaks and don’t always understand the disease and how it is transmitted. In fact, a “high number of infections” have occurred in health care workers, indicating they are not practicing adequate infection control measures.
- The WHO is asking for heads of state to take control of the epidemic by creating a state of emergency, and by having health ministers meet regularly with communities and health facilities.
- Designated emergency operation centers should be set up, and supplies such as personal protective equipment for workers should be readily available for health care workers, laboratory technicians, cleaning staff, burial personnel, and others who come in contacted with infected people or contaminated materials.
- Other measures include having adequate security enforce control of the outbreak, avoiding mass gatherings in affected areas, and screening people at airports, seaports, and other major travel areas for illness (especially fever).
- People who handle and bury the dead must be trained in how to handle bodies safely to prevent transmission via blood and other body fluids.
There is no ban on international travel or trade. Travelers to Ebola-affected areas should receive information on how the virus is spread and how to reduce their risks of exposure to it. Ebola cases must be detected, investigated, and managed, especially in getting specimens from people suspected of having Ebola to qualified diagnostic laboratories. And finally, the public should receive “accurate and relevant information” on Ebola, according to the WHO.
On Monday, August 11, the WHO will convene a panel of medical ethicists to determine if the use of experimental drugs should be used in the Ebola outbreak, and if so, which patients should receive them. There are no currently available treatments for Ebola.
On August 12, Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of WHO, will give a briefing on the outbreak to the United Nations and other organizations in Geneva. Representatives from affected countries have been invited to speak as well.