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FAQ: The Deadly Ebola Virus

By Rita Rubin
WebMD Health News

Editor's note: This story was updated on Aug. 21, 2014.

April 4, 2014 -- Perhaps no virus strikes as much fear in people as Ebola, the cause of a deadly outbreak in West Africa.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports more than 2,400 confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola in the countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone as of Aug. 20. More than 1,300 people have died in the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded.

On Aug. 8, the WHO declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to be a “public health emergency of international concern.” It said “a coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop and reverse the international spread” of the virus.

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Two Americans were among those infected. Kent Brantly, MD, working in Liberia with the relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, arrived in the United States on Aug. 2 and was treated in a special isolation unit at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital.

He was released from the hospital Aug. 21. “Today is a miraculous day. I’m thrilled to be alive, to be well, and to be reunited with my family,” he said.

Nancy Writebol, a missionary for the Christian mission organization SIM, arrived in Atlanta on Aug. 5. She was in Liberia on a joint team with Brantly and was also being treated in Emory’s isolation unit. 

Writebol was released from Emory on Aug. 19 after tests showed she no longer had the virus, SIM said in a statement Aug. 21. “She and her husband, David, have gone to an undisclosed location to rest and spend time with one another.”

“After a rigorous course of treatment and testing, the Emory Healthcare team has determined that both patients have recovered from the Ebola virus and can return to their families and community without concern for spreading this infection to others,” says Bruce Ribner, MD, director of Emory’s Infectious Disease Unit.

In his Aug. 15 statement, Brantly wrote: “Thank you for your prayers for Nancy and me. Please continue to pray for and bring attention to those suffering in the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa.”

In an earlier statement on Aug. 8, Brantly wrote that while treating those with Ebola in Liberia, he “held the hands of countless individuals as this terrible disease took their lives away from them. I witnessed the horror firsthand, and I can still remember every face and name.”

He said when he began feeling ill, he immediately isolated himself until a test confirmed he had the virus three days later.

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