West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, which has sickened more than 22,000 people since it started last year, has slowed significantly, according to officials. The largest Ebola unit in the world that opened in Liberian capital Monrovia this summer is now being partially dismantled. This is the first time the threat from the dangerous Ebola virus is reduced since the epidemic broke out.
The West African Ebola outbreak became one of the most-talked about public concerns of 2014, with scare spreading to most parts of the world. However, the threat is now diminishing, officials say, as the number of new cases has dropped in recent months. The World Health Organization reported that infections in Liberia have decreased significantly as Medicines san Frontiers announced there are now only five confirmed cases in the country. As of January 25, the total number of Ebola infections was 22, 092, while the deaths were 8,810, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The WHO says that the focus has now shifted from slowing transmission to ending the epidemic, but to achieve this goal, health authorities need to ensure that diagnosis, treatment and infection prevention are carried out in the best way possible.
One crucial step is finding a vaccine and there are several right now. In fact, the first large-scale trials of an Ebola vaccine are underway in Monrovia. But experts say that success is not guaranteed, especially now, when the epidemic has slowed down – in order to prove the effectiveness of the vaccine, scientists need to give it to people, who are actually exposed to the virus. So, the disappearing virus makes scientists’ task more difficult.
There’s one bigger threat however. Researchers at the Institut Pasteur in France have just started analyzing hundreds of blood samples from Ebola patients in Guinea and have discovered the virus is changing a lot. Mutation isn’t unusual, but according to experts, there are now even cases that don’t have any symptoms at all. This means that infected people can spread the virus without even knowing, simply because they are not sick. This causes fears that despite seemingly slowing down in Liberia, the outbreak may be actually raging in Guinea, which still reports new cases.
Overall, experts are still hesitant to say that Ebola no longer poses a risk to the public health, but admit that the current slowdown of the outbreak is the first good news since last winter. Vaccine trials also look promising and there’s a real chance of ending the epidemic very soon.