Ebola: a timeline

How Ebola spread

On the 6th of December 2013, a two year old boy called Emile passed away in a small village in Guinea. His family were keen hunters of bushmeat, and regularly hunted animals like fruit bats for food. His mother, sister and grandmother all died with similar symptoms soon after him. Here lies the first instances of the spread of Ebola in West Africa, which would end up devastating not only the health of many Western African nations, but ruining their economies and instilling fear in populations across the globe too.

After the members of this family died, the disease spread to other neighbouring villages. Ebola had never been seen in these parts of Africa and was not recognised as such for several months. This was one of the fatal flaws in the analyses of many national and international health organisations.

On the 19th March 2014, a statement was released from the Guinean Ministry of Health. It included details of what it termed a ‘viral hemorrhagic fever’ which had thus far killed 23 people. At first it was thought to be Lassa fever, since the Lassa virus is not uncommon in Western Africa, causing up to 500,000 cases every year. But there was still no government or humanitarian action. During this grace period, the Ebola virus had travelled not only between a number of different families, but also across a wide geographic area.

By the 25th March, the World Health Organisation finally became involved. They released their first report, detailing a number of cases from four different regions in the country. At this time, there were also a number of suspected cases in Liberia, and on the 27th March, Liberia revised its statement on Ebola, strongly alluding to what was now thought of as a pandemic: a virus which was no longer confined to one country. On March 28th, Senegal closed all borders with Guinea, and 3 days later, the Liberian cases were confirmed. Liberia would later go on to be devastated by this disease.

Suspected cases came from Mali on April 7th, Sierra Leone on June 20th and Nigeria on the 25th July. The cases from Mali came to light as untrue, but Sierra Leone and Nigeria were and are still being hit hard. On July 29th, Dr. Sheik Umar Khan became the first health-worker to die from the disease. He was a pivotal figure in controlling the disease in Sierra Leone. On the 20th August, riots broke out in a Quarantine area of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. In the ensuing fight, one adolescent died of gunshot wounds.

Between August and October 2014, infected health-workers and foreign nationals were flown to countries like USA, Spain, UK, Germany, France, Switzerland and Norway for treatment. All survived bar a Catholic priest who died in Spain. During September, work began on developing a vaccine for the disease. European and American scientists received donations from GlaxoSmithKline, the Wellcome trust and national governments. The trials are too late according to some commentators, who say that the drug will not be ready in time to treat any patients of the current epidemic.

In early October, Teresa Romero, a Spanish nurse, became the first person to contract Ebola outside of Africa and on the 12th October the first transmission in the USA was confirmed.

216 health-workers have died, in part due to a lack of equipment and a culture of long working hours. In total, 4,555 people are known to have died, from 9,216 cases. The World Health Organisation has warned that these figures, however, are significant underestimates.

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