The deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa is now an international health emergency that requires a coordinated global approach, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The outbreak began in Guinea in December 2013 and spread to Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. So far 932 people have died. WHO reports those cases were among the 1,070 confirmed reports of Ebola, although the U.N. health agency reports there are an additional 436 probable cases and 205 suspected cases.
It is the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded, according to WHO, which conducted a two-day emergency meeting this week of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee to discuss the epidemic.
The extraordinary event requires "a coordinated international response" to stop and reverse the international spread of Ebola, the WHO said in the statement.
"Declaring Ebola an international public health emergency shows how seriously WHO is taking the current outbreak, but statements won't save lives," Bart Janssens, M.D., director of operations for Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian organization, told CNN. "Now we need this statement to translate into immediate action on the ground … Lives are being lost because the response is too slow."
Experts say one of the reasons the virus continues to spread is because of fear and false information.
"This is critical to understand, because what it is doing is that it helps foster suspicion and anxiety in communities, and when that happens we see a situation where people are reluctant to go to health facilities or maybe reluctant to bring their family members there," said Keiji Fukuda, M.D., assistant director for health security at WHO.
Two Americans working in Liberia contracted the virus and are now receiving treatment at Emory Hospital in Atlanta, which follows meticulous infection control procedures, Tom Frieden, M.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee Thursday.
Although it's possible that at some point someone will come to the country with the disease, Frieden said he was confident Americans aren't at risk of a major outbreak because our healthcare system is prepared to prevent the spread of the virus. Symptoms include fever of 101.5 degrees or higher, muscle and body aches, headaches, vomiting and diarrhea and, eventually, hemorrhaging of blood.
The CDC recommends healthcare providers remain on alert and evaluate suspected patients for Ebola if they have consistent symptoms and risk factors, including contact with blood or bodily fluids of a patient suspected of having Ebola, along with residence or travel to an area where Ebola transmission is active.
If hospitals suspect a patient has Ebola, the CDC urges that they:
Place patients in a single-patient room and keep the door closed
Provide gloves, gowns, shoe covers, eye protection and a facemask for all healthcare workers interacting with the patient
Avoid aerosol-generating procedures, and if they must be done, perform them in an airborne isolation room.
Clean and disinfect potentially contaminated materials with hospital-grade quaternary ammonium or phenolic products