As Death Count Rises, Health Officials Work To Stem Ebola's Spread

Jun 18, 2014
Originally published on June 18, 2014 6:08 pm

The World Health Organization is reporting that the Ebola virus has yet to be contained in West Africa. It's one of the largest Ebola outbreaks in decades — with over 500 cases, some 330 of which ended in death.

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To West Africa now, where an Ebola outbreak that began earlier this year is proving hard to contain. There have been more than 500 cases of the hemorrhagic fever reported in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. At least 330 people have died. Disease experts say this is turning into one of the longest, deadliest and most widely dispersed Ebola outbreaks ever recorded. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Ebola usually follows a predictable pattern.

TOM GEISBERT: It'll go through a village and just kill almost all of the people it infects relatively quickly. And so it sort of, as we say, burns out.

BEAUBIEN: Tom Geisbert at the University of Texas at Galveston has been studying Ebola for 30 years. He says outbreaks typically strike in Central rather than West Africa and generally, they're contained quite quickly.

GEISBERT: I think this is highly unusual, in that it's popping up in very different locations in West Africa. I don't think we've quite seen anything like this before.

BEAUBIEN: He says it's not entirely clear why this outbreak is so different. He says it might be that there are better roads in West Africa then in, say, the Congo. This could allow people carrying the virus to move around more and spread the disease more quickly. The original outbreak was centered in Guinea and that's where the bulk of the cases -almost 400 - have been reported. This week there's been a surge of cases in neighboring Liberia, including seven in the densely populated capital. Monrovia. And Sierra Leone has reported almost 100 cases in the last month. Professor Robert Garry from Tulane University spent the last two weeks working to try to help contain the outbreak in Sierra Leone. He says the disease is ravaging remote, eastern parts of the country.

ROBERT GARRY: Well, we found 25 corpses in one village alone. One house with seven people in it, all in one family, all dead.

BEAUBIEN: Garry says the other members of that village had all fled out of fear the disease might get them next. The problem with that is that some of them may actually be infected and are now spreading the lethal virus even further. While much of the rest of the world may have thought that the West Africa Ebola outbreak was on its last legs, Garry says that's not the feeling at all in eastern Sierra Leone. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.