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FAQ: The Deadly Ebola Virus

By Rita Rubin
WebMD Health News

Editor's note: This story was updated on Aug. 19, 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 reports more than 2,200 confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola in the countries of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone as of Aug. 16. More than 1,200 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 are among those infected. Kent Brantly, MD, working in Liberia with the relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, arrived in the United States on Aug. 2. He is being treated in a special isolation unit at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital. 

In a statement released Aug. 15 by Samaritan’s Purse, Brantly wrote he is “recovering in every way. … There are still a few hurdles to clear before I can be discharged, but I hold on to the hope of a sweet reunion with my wife, children and family in the near future.”

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 is also being treated in Emory's isolation unit.

Writebol’s husband, David, in a statement issued Aug. 18, said he was able to visit with her through the isolation-room glass, and she was “standing with her radiant smile. … She is continuing to slowly gain strength.”

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.

Ebola was first identified in 1976, when it appeared in outbreaks in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is named for the Ebola River, which runs near the Congolese village where one of the first outbreaks happened.

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