Ebola Watch: Virus kills more than 500 healthcare workers

The body count from the Ebola outbreak continues to climb, with more than 800 healthcare workers infected--nearly 500 of whom have succumbed to the virus--as well as a total death toll that has surpassed 8,000, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

"The marked increase from the total of 678 healthcare worker infections reported last week is due to additional cases reported from Sierra Leone that have occurred since the onset of the epidemic," the latest WHO report states. In other words, the sharp rise in the number of healthcare worker infections does not necessarily reflect new cases as much as newly reported cases.

Still, Sierra Leone "remains by far the worst-affected country" by the outbreak, with 248 new confirmed in the week preceding Jan. 4, according to WHO, though the organization reports that cases of the virus may have levelled off.

Meanwhile, foreign health workers battling Ebola in West Africa continue to be evacuated for treatment after contracting the virus, with a South Korean medic flown to Germany to receive treatment, according to the Korea Times; a Swedish nurse declared healthy after being treated in her home country, as reported by Swedish newspaper The Local; and a similar happy ending for an Italian doctor who was treated in Rome after contracting the virus in Sierra Leone, according to ABC News.

In a twist on the conventional narrative, a Durham, North Carolina, doctor decided to quarantine himself after returning from an eight-week mission trip to Liberia at the end of December, WRAL.com reported. "I was trained to take care of people and look out for people and that's what I did, and I'm pleased to have been there," George Peolhman, M.D., told the radio station. His situation is in stark contrast to the infamous case of nurse Kaci Hickox, who sued the state of Maine for enforcing an involuntary quarantine on her, FierceHeatlhcare has reported.

More than 20,000 people have been infected by the virus since the onset of the outbreak, WHO reports, and the fatality rate among "intense transmission countries" is 71 percent. For patients who have been hospitalized, the fatality risk dips to 58 percent in Guinea and Liberiam and 60 percent in Sierra Leone, underscoring the importance of timely treatment for infected patients.

In its continuing effort to combat the virus, WHO also has employed 900 additional epidemiologists, or "medical detectives," to identify chains of infection, Reuters reported.

"You don't have control of Ebola until you know where all your transmission chains are and until your cases are coming from known contact lists," Bruce Aylward, WHO's head of Ebola response, told the news agency.

The addition of more epidemiologists, which will triple the number on the ground in West Africa, is long overdue and speaks to the need for more cooperation among the various branches of the medical Ebola response, wrote Rossi A. Hassad, Ph.D., an epidemiologist and professor at Mercy College, in a piece published by MedPage Today.

"Undoubtedly, we need more epidemiologists, as well as greater collaboration between the clinical and public health arms of medicine, in order to conquer this EVD epidemic," he wrote. "At times, the narrative suggests competition rather than collaboration among the key entities leading the fight against this epidemic. Let's resolve to do better in 2015."

To learn more:
- check out the WHO report
- read the Korea Times article
- read The Local's article
- read the ABC News report
- read the Reuters report
- read the MedPage Today piece