The World Health Organization on Friday declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to be an international public health emergency that requires an extraordinary response to stop its spread.
The WHO announced the Ebola outbreak - the largest and longest in history - is worrying enough to merit being declared an international health emergency. WHO declared similar emergencies for the swine flu pandemic in 2009.
The current outbreak of Ebola began in Guinea in March and has since spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. There is no licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola and the death rate has been about 50%.
The impact of the WHO declaration is unclear; a similar announcement made about polio doesn’t yet seem to have slowed the spread of virus. During a WHO meeting last week to reconsider the status of polio, experts noted countries hadn’t yet fully applied the recommendations made in May, there have been more instances of international spread and that outbreaks have worsened in Pakistan and Cameroon.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have already elevated its Ebola response to the highest level and it has recommended against traveling to West Africa. On Thursday, CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden told a Congressional hearing that the current outbreak is set to sicken more people than all previous outbreaks of the disease combined.
So far more than 930 people have died from Ebola in West Africa this year.
More than 1,700 cases of Ebola have been reported in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
The WHO said there would be no general ban on international travel or trade.
However, states should be prepared to detect, investigate and manage Ebola cases, including at airports, it said.
Other recommendations include:
- Good surveillance to pick up potential cases
- Giving people in affected countries up-to-date information on risks
- Effective measures to manage risks to healthcare workers.
Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage.
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