Ebola: How Did We Get Here?

LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

Concern of outbreak in the United States rose this week when two nurses who cared for the first case of Ebola brought to the country — Thomas Eric Duncan, who died October 8 in Dallas — tested positive for the virus. Nurses Nina Pham and Amber Vinson were the first patients to be diagnosed with the Ebola virus in the U.S. Let’s take a look at how the outbreak started.

In March, the West African country Guinea discovered that the cause of death for almost 60 of its people was Ebola. A week later, Liberia reported two cases of Ebola, and suspected cases were reported in Sierra Leone. On April 1, Medecins Sans Frontieres, a medical charity described the epidemic’s spread as “unprecedented,” while the World Health Organization (WHO) called it “relatively small still.” WHO confirmed the first Ebola deaths in Sierra Leone on May 26.

By late June, death tolls in West Africa reached more than 350, and Medecins Sans Frontieres called the spread “out of control.” Nigeria reported its first Ebola case in July — a man who had traveled from Liberia.

The death toll reached 1,000 in early August. A U.S. missionary physician who became infected with Ebola in Liberia returned to Atlanta for treatment. WHO declared the Ebola crisis an “international public health emergency” on August 8 and, a few days later, approved the use of unproven drugs and vaccines. At the same time, the disease claimed its first victim in Europe when a Spanish missionary, who caught Ebola in Liberia, died in Madrid. By the end of the month, WHO placed the death toll over 1,550 and warned that the outbreak could spread to more than 20,000.

In mid-September, the United States stepped in, promising 3,000 military engineers and medical personnel will be sent to West Africa, and the United Nations plans to deploy staff in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. According to WHO, there were around 2,500 dead out of 5,000 infected. On September 23, the CDC released estimates that said between 550,000 and 1.4 million people in West Africa could be infected with Ebola by January.

On September 30, the CDC confirmed the first Ebola diagnosis in the United States, Duncan, who had been sent home from a Dallas hospital a few days earlier. Meanwhile, an American freelance TV cameraman, Ashoka Mukpo, was diagnosed and brought to Omaha for treatment at the Nebraska Medical Center on October 6. WHO said the West Africa death toll was 3,338 dead out of a total of 7,178 cases by October 1.

After Duncan died on October 8, the U.S. government ordered five major airports to screen passengers from West Africa for signs of the virus. Great Britain also began screening passengers from West Africa at Heathrow, London’s busiest airport. After two of the nurses who treated Duncan were diagnosed with Ebola, House Speaker John Boehner called on President Barack Obama to issue a travel ban concerning West African countries “as doubts about the security of our air travel grow,” according to NBC News. Texas Gov. Rick Perry seconded this request on Friday.

However, according to CDC spokesman Tom Skinner, this isn’t a solution. “When some commercial flights stop going into those countries, our people are delayed going in, our people are delayed going out,” Skinner said. “When we stop commercial flights in and out of the country, it does not enhance our ability to stop the epidemic.” And in his weekly radio address, Obama also said he wouldn’t acquiesce to the travel ban requests. “We can’t just cut ourselves off from West Africa,” Obama said. “Trying to seal off an entire region of the world, if that were even possible, could actually make the situation worse.”

One of the few silver linings: According to the WHO, the outbreak of Ebola in Senegal, which was declared on August 29, is over, though the country is still wary of imported cases. The United States is continuing to increase its involvement in outbreak control efforts — on Friday, the government named Ron Klain, the former chief of staff for Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden, as the Ebola Response Coordinator. According to Bloomberg, Obama may make a request for additional funds from Congress to fight Ebola as early as this week.

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