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Ebola Death Toll In West Africa Hits 1,200

The Ebola epidemic in western Africa continues to spread:

LONDON — As West African nations grapple with the worst-ever outbreak of the Ebola virus, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the death toll had exceeded 1,200 and announced increased efforts to forestall hunger in areas isolated by quarantine measures.

The figure offered a familiar, grim picture of the spread of Ebola, which international health specialists say has been outpacing containment efforts since its identification in March.

The only hint of relief came from Dakar, Senegal, where Liberia’s information minister, Lewis Brown, was quoted by Reuters as saying that three African doctors treated in the country with the experimental drug ZMapp were showing “remarkable signs of improvement.” There is no licensed cure or vaccine for Ebola, which kills at least half of those infected.

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At its headquarters in Geneva, the World Health Organization said the number of people who had died in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria had reached 1,229, with 84 new fatalities reported between Aug. 14 and 16 — the latest available figures.

The total number of cases was reported as 2,240 — an increase of 113 in the same period.

International health experts say the epidemic is probably much worse than the official figures suggest. Local health officials in some countries say they are expecting a sharp increase in the number of cases as they identify patients who have stayed in hiding rather than report to public health facilities.

The W.H.O. also said it was working with the United Nations World Food Program to reach one million people in need of food in the worst-hit areas.

“Food has been delivered to hospitalized patients and people under quarantine who are not able to leave their homes to purchase food,” a W.H.O. statement said. “Providing regular food supplies is a potent means of limiting unnecessary movement.”

Perhaps the one good sign so far has been the fact that, notwithstanding the urbanization in countries like Nigeria and the prevalence of international air travel, we have not seen the disease spread as much as some public health experts have been fearing, at least not yet. To some extent, this appears to be due to the fact that authorities managed to be very pro-active when it comes to screening passengers. There have been a few reports of people with suspected Ebola symptoms being quarantined in Europe and other parts of Africa, for example, but so far no reports of full blown Ebola outside of the west African countries impacted by the current epidemic. Whether that’s because of skill or luck is unclear.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook