Ebola outbreak moving faster than control efforts, WHO says

BY Anna Christiansen  August 1, 2014 at 1:40 PM EST

Staff of the international aid organization, Samaritan's Purse, put on protective gear at the ELWA hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by Zoom Dosso/AFP

Staff of the international aid organization, Samaritan’s Purse, put on protective gear at the ELWA hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo by Zoom Dosso/AFP

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is moving faster than health workers’ efforts to control the virus, the World Health Organization said Friday.

“If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives, but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s director-general, at a meeting with presidents from the affected West African countries.

The current Ebola death toll stands at 729 with a fatality rate of roughly 60 percent. In response to the lethal strain’s spread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is deploying 50 experts to the West African countries currently affected, said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC. The agency also said they would assist in monitoring airports, preventing infected people from boarding planes. The CDC is considering the virus a “Level 3″ threat, their most stringent classification, and are urging people to avoid traveling to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Guinea.

On Friday, Nancy Writebol of mission group SIM and Dr. Kent Brantley of Samaritan’s Purse, infected with the virus while working in Liberia, are expected to be transferred to Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital for treatment early next week, the Associated Press reported. The State Department and the CDC are overseeing the evacuation.

CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said, to the agency’s knowledge, no Ebola patient has been treated in the United States before, Reuters reported.

The Ebola outbreak has been devastating in West Africa due to the countries’ poor health infrastructure, which have made efforts to control the latest strain difficult. The potential for the virus to spread across the U.S. — even if it hit a localized area — is currently low, mainly because it’s not airborne, said Michael Osterholm, who works at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“I don’t think we’ll have a serious public health threat in any of the developed countries,” he told Vox.