The death toll from the Ebola outbreak spreading through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia has grown to 1,145 – a number considered to be a vast underestimate of virus’s true impact.
In just two days, more than 150 new cases of were reported and 76 people died despite drastic efforts to curb the worst-ever outbreak, according to the World Health Organization.
“Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak,” the organization said in a statement, adding that outbreak is “expected to continue for some time.”
The outbreak has forced more than one million people into quarantine zones patrolled by military personnel – a disease-control tactic used in medieval times. Aid groups are struggling to provide medical care and food to disease-stricken areas, and Ebola survivors are being shunned by their communities.
Here are six things you should know about the outbreak, which shows no sign of slowing.
|Officials Say the Outbreak Is ‘Vastly’ Underestimated|
The Ebola outbreak is already the deadliest on record, and WHO officials say the impact may be far worse than reported.
The number of known infections – currently 2,127 – “vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak,” according to staff at outbreak sites.
The agency said it's scaling up its response in "recognition of the extraordinary measures needed, on a massive scale, to contain the outbreak in settings characterized by extreme poverty, dysfunctional health systems, a severe shortage of doctors, and rampant fear."
|Governments Are Reviving the ‘Cordon Sanitaire’|
Officials from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have implemented a “cordon sanitaire” or sanitary barrier – a cross-border isolation zone designed to contain people with the highest infection risk.
The tactic, used to prevent the spread of plague in medieval times, literally blocks off an area thought to contain 70 percent of the epidemic. But some experts say there’s little proof that isolation zones can prevent the spread of disease.
“It may not be sufficiently structured so it can prevent people from leaving,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
|Fearful Communities Are Shunning Survivors|
An estimated 47 percent of people infected in the outbreak have survived the virus, according to WHO data. But they face fear and shame from their communities.
Survivor Sulaiman Kemokai, from Sierra Leone, said people in his community are afraid to touch him even though he’s been declared virus-free, the Associated Press reported.
The Ebola virus can only be spread through contact with bodily secretions such as blood, urine or sweat. But misinformation is rampant in areas hardest hit by the virus, health officials said.
|Infected Americans Are Recovering|
Two American health workers are recovering from Ebola after being evacuated to the U.S. from Liberia.
Dr. Kent Brantly, 33, and Nancy Writebol, 59, continue to receive treatment in a special isolation ward at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Both were infected while treating patients in an Ebola ward outside Monrovia, Liberia.
In statement released today, Brantly said he has “a few hurdles to clear” before being released.
“I thank God for the healthcare team here who is giving me compassionate, world-class care,” he said. “I am more grateful every day to the Lord for sparing my life and continuing to heal my body.”
Writebol's husband, David, said his wife was “making good progress."
“Her voice is clearer and brighter. I’m imagining she’s getting stronger,” he said. “It’s moving in the right direction, Let’s say that. From everything I I’m hearing, we’re making good progress but we’re not ready to say she’s out of the woods yet.”
|Drug Companies Are Rushing to Provide Treatments|
The growing outbreak has left pharmaceutical companies scrambling to test drugs that could treat and prevent the infection.
There is currently no drug approved to fight Ebola, but WHO has allowed medical professionals to use experimental or untested medications in a last ditch effort to save lives.
One drug, an experimental serum known as ZMapp, has been used to treat three patients: American health workers Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, and a Spanish priest. Brantly and Writebol survived but the Spanish priest did not.
Another drug, an Ebola vaccine developed by the U.S. National Institute for Health, is scheduled to be tested on humans for the first time in September. Another vaccine out of Canada is also expected to be tested, the Associated Press reported.
|FDA Warns Against Fake Ebola Treatments|
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning people to avoid fake Ebola treatments and vaccines being sold online. The agency said products claiming to protect people from the infection began popping up online after the outbreak began in March.
“There are currently no FDA-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent or treat Ebola,” the agency said in a statement. “Although there are experimental Ebola vaccines and treatments under development, these investigational products are in the early stages of product development, have not yet been fully tested for safety or effectiveness, and the supply is very limited."
"There are no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products specifically for Ebola available for purchase on the Internet," the FDA added. "By law, dietary supplements cannot claim to prevent or cure disease.”