“Unprecedented,” “challenging,” and “out of control” were some of the words used by medical experts globally to describe the largest and deadliest Ebola virus outbreak ever recorded. It was the first time the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Mali, and Senegal had seen this virus. Ebola is more common in Central African countries, like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, where it was first discovered in 1976.
Scientists initially thought the virus was brought over by bats from Central Africa to West Africa, prompting Guinea to ban the sale and consumption of bats and other types of bush meat. In April 2014, researchers discovered that the Ebola virus in Guinea was a new strain of Ebola, although 97% similar to the Zaire strain from Central Africa.
Before this year, only 2200 cases of Ebola were recorded and 68% were fatal. Twenty percent of new Ebola infections overall were linked to the Islamic burial tradition in which family members and community members wash and touch the dead bodies before burial. In Guinea, 60% of Ebola infections were linked to traditional burial practices. Healthcare workers charged with properly burying the bodies to avoid spreading the disease were met with anger and fear from local residents. This reaction led the World Health Organization (WHO) to release guidelines on November 7 on how to perform a safe, yet dignified burial that aligns as much as possible with local religious custom.
Almost a year after this outbreak began, the US continues to monitor and check travelers, especially healthcare workers, coming from West African countries at five US airports. The situation in the worst Ebola-hit country, Liberia, may be improving, yet is “complex and evolving,” according to researchers in a new study that says outbreaks in more remote regions of the country are becoming more frequent.
During a 4-week period from November 9 to December 6, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone saw adramatic rise in cases.
As of December 22, 2014, nearly 19,340 cases of Ebola have been reported in 8 countries, and of those cases 7,518 have died since the start of the longest known outbreak of Ebola. Recently in Mali, 7 confirmed cases and 6 deaths have been reported since the country saw its first Ebola case in October 2014.