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Gary Evans writes Hospital Infection Control & Prevention (HIC), Hospital Employee Health (HEH) and contributes to IRB Advisor (IRB). As senior writer at AHC, Evans has written numerous articles on infectious disease threats to both patients and health care workers, including pandemic influenza, MERS and Ebola. He has been honored for excellence in analytical reporting five times by the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
After more than a year of ongoing Ebola transmission in Guinea and seven months of viral spread in Liberia and Sierra Leone, we hail the coming New Year with what must pass for hope in hard times: more than 12,000 people have acquired Ebola and lived to tell the tale. Twelve thousand Ebola survivors – maybe that glass of champagne is half-full after all.
I’ll hazard a guess that such a cohort has never walked the Earth, as past outbreaks were explosive but short lived and containable. Not this one. But 12,000 Ebola survivors is more than another unprecedented number in an outbreak that has already broken duration and case count records. It is a testament to the human will, to remarkable resilience, and to the fierce compassion in the care givers who risk death to save life in every patient encounter. According to the World Health Organization, more than 350 health care workers have died of Ebola, though specific exposure incidents remain largely undefined.
As of Dec. 30, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 20,081 (confirmed and probable) cases with 7,842 deaths in the three countries at the epicenter of the West African outbreak. There are encouraging signs that the redoubled global response is beating back the devil, particularly in Liberia. That said, there is a threat of a disastrous surge of Ebola in the Guinea capital of Conakry, where more than a million people live.
“In Guinea, I met with the head of MSF -- Doctors without Borders -- who told me the scariest thing I had heard in travels to the three countries,” said CDC chief Tom Frieden, MD, who recently returned from a second trip to the outbreak region. “He said, for the first time since the outbreak started -- which is now over a year ago in Guinea -- they had not had enough isolation beds for Ebola patients in the capitol city of Conakry, for just one day in the previous week. That's so risky, because when there are more patients than there are isolation beds, the spread of disease can exponentially increase.”
Frieden met with African public health leaders and visited with some of the 170 CDC personnel currently in the field in the outbreak region.
“It is inspiring to see how much better the response has become in the past two months, how much international commitment there is, and, most importantly, how hard people from each of the three countries are working to stop Ebola,” he said at a Dec. 22 press conference. “But it is sobering that Ebola continues to spread rapidly in Sierra Leone and that in parts of Monrovia and Conakry Ebola is spreading unabated. Improvements in contact tracing are urgently needed.”