The deadly Ebola virus is spreading rapidly in West Africa and the main concern is its spread from its point of origin and be carried possibly to other countries, including the Middle East.
With the death toll rapidly nearing the 1,000 mark, West Africa’s latest Ebola virus epidemic is already the worst outbreak of its kind to occur according to the World Health Organization and other international public health bodies.
Originally confined to three West African countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leon, the virus, found to be as much as 90% fatal in some rural areas, has now spread to neighboring Nigeria with 7 cases reported resulting in 2 deaths. The spread of this deadly disease has been so rapid that a representative of the international medical organization Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) for Libera, Lindis Hurum, told the BBC that “Our capacity is stretched beyond anything that we ever done before in regards to Ebola response. We are definitely seeing the whole health care system (of Liberia) is falling apart“.
The only good news is that the American physician Dr. Kent Brantly, brought to the US for treatment, is showing improvement in his condition.
In the case of Nigeria, Africa’s most populated country, the virus arrived there when a US-Liberian passenger from Liberia arrived in Lagos showing advanced symptoms of the disease. He died a few days later; and a nurse who was treating him also caught the disease and died as well.
As of this writing, 7 persons in Nigeria have caught the disease with another 139 under observation. “We may have started too late in raising our alert for this disease” a Nigerian public health official was quoted as saying.
Although a vaccine to treat the disease is now undergoing trials, it may only be sometime in 2015 before it is ready to be administered to the general public, says WHO Director General Margaret Chan, who declared the Ebola virus epidemic to be an “international public health emergency.
“Countries affected to date simply do not have the capacity to manage an outbreak of this size and complexity on their own. I urge the international community to provide this support on the most urgent basis possible,” says Director General Chan.
West African health officials involved in dealing with Ebola in West Africa have a very difficult time in containing the disease; especially in regards to parents with small children and pregnant mothers. They say that parents are understandably frightened and stay away from medical centers through fear of coming into contact with the infection. Pregnant mothers are giving birth at home at “the most vulnerable time in their lives”.
As to the danger of Ebola becoming established in the Middle East, it was reported by Saudi Arabian health authorities that a Saudi businessman returned from a business trip to West Africa with symptoms of the disease. What makes the fear of Ebola breaking out in the Kingdom so relevant is due to the annual Hajj religious pilgrimage due to take place in early October.
In the past, fear of other contageous diseases has haunted the event where up to 3 million Muslim pilgrims descend on the Kingdom for the 5 day event. Saudi health official Dr. Khalid al-Marghalani said that that the man arrived to Saudi Arabia from Sierra Leone last Sunday night. Concern over the virus occuring in Saudi Arabia during the Hajj has resulted in officials not issuing visas for persons from Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone.
With Nigeria now reporting Ebola cases, that country with its large Muslim population may also be added to the list. Diseases like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) are already plauging Saudi health authorties; so another and even more dangerous contageous disease is not what this country needs in respect to such a large influx of religious pilgrims.
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Photo of Removing Body of Ebola Victim by Daily Express/AP