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Worst Ebola outbreak on record shows few signs of slowing

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More than 600 people have died so far in the worst Ebola outbreak on record, with fears the killer disease is spreading from West Africa into central areas of the continent, putting hundreds of thousands more at risk.

The World Health Organisation has reported that, as at 15 July, 964 confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, of which 603 people had died.

The previous most deadly outbreak was in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 318 people died in 1976.

Worryingly, health authorities are struggling to bring the deadly epidemic under control.

While the spread of the disease appears to have slowed in Guinea, where about half of all deaths have occurred so far, in both Liberia and Sierra Leone it continues to spread.

Between 8 and 12 July, Liberia reported 30 new cases and 13 deaths, while in Sierra Leone there were an additional 49 infections and 52 deaths.

The WHO said the epidemic trend was “serious, with high numbers of new cases and deaths being reported”.

“This trend indicates that a high level of transmission of the Ebola virus continues to take place in the community.”

The WHO is establishing a centre to coordinate actions to tackle the outbreak in Conakry, Guinea, and is working with the governments of the three affected countries to strengthen efforts to track infections.

In addition to being highly infectious, Ebola has an extraordinarily high fatality rate, raising the stakes in action to contain its spread.

Health authorities in Uganda have gone on alert for the disease following unconfirmed reports that it has entered neighbouring Congo.

Despite the scale of the outbreak, the WHO has not recommended any travel or trade restrictions be imposed on the countries where the epidemic has been confirmed.

Adrian Rollins