Ebola outbreak spinning out of control

As reports surface that a third American missionary has contracted Ebola while working in Liberia, public health officials said the outbreak is spinning out of control and has now spread to five countries.

Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, returned Monday from a week-long trip to West Africa, one of the areas hardest hit by the outbreak, and told the Washington Post he was shocked by how fast the virus is spreading.

"I could not possibly overstate the need for an emergency response," he said. "There is a window of opportunity to tamp this down, but that window is closing ... We need action now."

In response to the crisis--the worst Ebola outbreak on record--the World Health Organization (WHO) is holding a summit this week so scientists and industry experts can go through the world's stock of experimental drugs and vaccines and agree on a plan for clinical trials, according to Time.

More than 1,500 people have died in West Africa--almost half of the some 3,500 cases confirmed since the disease was identified in March, Time reported. WHO officials estimated in a roadmap released last week that as many as 20,000 people will contract Ebola before the spread of the virus is stopped.

The United Nations and Doctors Without Borders, a medical aid group, each issued urgent appeals this week for international aid to combat the outbreak, the New York Times reports. Margaret Chan, M.D., the head of WHO, told the newspaper that officials underestimated the magnitude of the crisis and "the outbreak will get worse before it gets better, and it requires a well-coordinated big surge of outbreak response urgently."

Meanwhile, an unidentified third American missionary is ill with Ebola and receiving treatment in an isolation unit in a Monrovia hospital, according to the Wall Street Journal. Earlier this month Emory Hospital in Atlanta discharged two American patients suffering from Ebola, who were evacuated to the United States for treatment.

Infectious disease specialists recommend quarantine of patients with symptoms of the virus as one measure to stop its spread.

In its roadmap, the WHO outlined additional steps for how it intends to stop the spread of the virus within six to nine months at a cost of $490 million. But one reason the virus is difficult to control is because the strain has undergone a high amount of genetic drift during the current outbreak, according to a study in the journal Science.

To learn more:
- read the Washington Post story
- here's the Time coverage
- check out the WHO's Ebola response roadmap (.pdf)
- read the New York Times story
- here's the Wall Street Journal article
- here's the study abstract