West Africa afraid: These are the numbers you don't want to know about Ebola

Experts say the risk of a global epidemic is still low, but the facts show just how interconnected we are.

WEST AFRICA - and the world - is in a state of mild panic following the worsening Ebola health crisis in the region, a  reminder of how interconnected the modern globe is.

Until now it has been just a news story in many “Africa” sections, but with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) confirming commercial aviation was now at risk after a victim passed through a major airport in Nigeria having been on board two flights, that may soon change.

Heightened screening at world airports—including checks for raised temperatures— may be the most visible sign, but with some borders in West Africa being shut and a number of countries increasingly issuing cautions on travel to the region, entire travel plans could be shelved if the Ebola wave doesn’t recede.  

Tests have already been carried out on travellers from the region in the UK and Hong Kong, but experts say the likelihood of the outbreak spreading beyond West Africa is very low, even it is admittedly a “rapidly changing” situation.  

Ebola virus disease, as it is medically known, has taken on a larger-than-life image due to the gruesome suffering patients go through, and the high fatality rate. 

It can fell victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in some cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding. 

It is transmitted to people from wild animals, and spreads between humans through bodily fluids such as urine, blood and sweat, as well as contaminated environments.

Importantly, individuals who do not show symptoms are however not infectious, but the Nigeria victim—a US citizen working with the Liberian government— was symptomatic, hence the global alarm over the case, which is still under investigation.

Ebola has no vaccine or cure yet, but authorities expect the outbreak to blow over by the end of the year. The World Health Organisation (WHO) currently does not recommend any travel or trade restrictions.

But it is a serious concern, and we look at some numbers around the disease.

•60%: The case fatality rate for the current outbreak, which in terms of numbers is the deadliest on record. The virus is known to kill up to 90% of its victims, but patients have a better chance of surviving if detected early.

•1,201: The number of cases of Ebola across the three hotspot countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia since March, WHO figures show.

•672: The number of people who have died in the three countries, according to the organisation. They include 129 in Liberia, 224 in Sierra Leona and 319 in Guinea. (Update: WHO in its latest update says there are now 729 people dead)

•280: The previous highest number of fatalities, in 1976 in DR Congo. The Central Africa country also had the second highest fatalities, 254 in 1995, while Uganda in 2000 recorded 224 fatalities.

•60: Locations in four West African countries the virus has been reported in.

•5: The number of known species of Ebolavirus. Three—Bundibugyo, Zaire and Sudan—are responsible for the largest outbreaks on the continent.

•24: The number of previous outbreaks in Africa, mainly in Uganda and the DRC, but also notably in Gabon, Cote d’Ivoire and Sudan.

•21: Days that are prescribed for observatory surveillance if one is suspected to have been either in direct or indirect contact. The illness shows up in as little as two days, but initial symptoms are often non-specific and you could be mistakenly treated for anything from typhoid fever to cholera and malaria.

•42: The standard number of days after the last case that authorities wait before declaring an outbreak officially over.

•2: The number of airlines that have suspended or restricted flights over Ebola—The latest was ASKY, which serves 20 destinations in Central and West Africa.

Nigeria’s Arik Air over the weekend said it was stopping direct flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

•2: Number of top medics who have died while treating the infected. They include Sierra Leone’s celebrated Dr Sheik Khan, the doctor who led the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone, and prominent Liberian doctor Samuel Brisbane. Another top doctor, American Kent Brantly, is being treated in Monrovia, while scores of other health workers have fallen victim.

•1976: When the virus first appeared, in two simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and the DRC.

•7: Weeks in which men who have recovered from the disease can still spread the illness—through their semen.

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