(RxWiki News) The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa an international public health emergency.
According to a statement from the WHO, a coordinated international response is needed to stop the spread of Ebola within the already affected countries and across borders.
"Learn the facts about Ebola from a qualified medical professional."
Since March, there have been more than 1,700 cases of Ebola and over 930 deaths from the disease. This is the largest outbreak of Ebola ever recorded.
"The magnitude of this outbreak caught the global community by surprise," said Donald Allegra, MD, Chair of Infection Control and Pharmacy/Therapeutics at Newton Medical Center in Newton, NJ.
"Initially, most thought it would be like the small limited geographic outbreaks we had in the past, but this outbreak is urban not rural, is now scattered over four coutnries and has claimed many more lives than anyone expected," Dr. Allegra told dailyRx News.
The Ebola virus causes a disease called Ebola hemorrhagic fever. This disease is severe and often fatal.
The WHO call for international action comes partly from the lack of resources in the countries with reported Ebola cases, which include Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. The WHO reports that the health systems in these countries are fragile and lack the health care workers, finances and equipment necessary to combat such a large outbreak.
These countries also face challenges regarding misperceptions of Ebola — particularly about how the disease is spread.
One of the main misperceptions is that Ebola is spread through the air like the flu. Many Americans seem to have this misperception, too, as there is growing concern about having two American Ebola patients transported back to US soil.
However, Ebola is not spread through the air. Ebola is spread from person to person mainly through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person. The disease can also spread if a person comes into contact with objects that have been contaminated with infected bodily fluids, such as needles.
But other misperceptions may be even more consequential. According to NPR, many people in West Africa continue to doubt that the Ebola virus is real. And even when someone develops symptoms of the disease, relatives are often afraid to take the sick person to the hospital.
The WHO statement outlines a number of other challenges faced by those trying to prevent the spread of Ebola. For one, this outbreak is occurring mainly in highly populated urban centers where the disease is hard to contain. In the past, Ebola outbreaks have remained small, in part because they were in rural areas.
While there is no cure for Ebola, several medications are currently in development. Unfortunately, as WHO's Assistant Director-General Dr. Keiji Fukada, told NPR, "The problem is that these drugs are not approved for widespread use. And they are available in only very small quantities."