WATCH ABOVE: The CDC announced its highest “level one” alert Wednesday, that means more resources will be devoted to fighting the Ebola epidemic.
TORONTO – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) upgraded its response to the Ebola outbreak to a Level 1, the highest activation ranking reserved for the most severe health emergencies.
It was used at the height of SARS in 2003 and again by 2009’s H1N1 outbreak. On Wednesday night, the U.S. agency issued its highest alert in a move that would essentially call on hundreds of its staff to shift their efforts on the epidemic in West Africa.
Now that Level 1 has been activated, health officials will likely drop their current projects to focus on the uphill battle against Ebola.
Right now, the World Health Organization (WHO) is meeting to decide if it should declare Ebola an international public health emergency. If it chooses to do so, that label would have to come with a string of health precautions, including recommendations on travel, trade restrictions and wider screening for the virus.
(In 2009, swine flu also promoted a WHO emergency declaration.)
Ebola is among the world’s most virulent diseases, and by Thursday, the death toll rose to at least 932 people across four West African countries – Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria.
There have now been at least 1,711 cases of Ebola this year, which has no proven vaccine or treatment, according to new figures released by the WHO.
“This outbreak, because of its size and its geographical extent, certainly merits an extraordinary response and we know countries have announced they must take extraordinary measures, so that is understandable from a public health perspective,” WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told the Associated Press.
Now that the CDC is ramping up its efforts, it’ll be sending more staff to West Africa within the next few weeks. It’ll also send increase surveillance at U.S. Quarantine Stations – they’re at 20 ports of entry and land-border crossings where international travellers arrive, according to the website.
Public health officers check on travellers and respond to reports of illness on planes, for example.
More response is what Canadian missionaries had called for when interviewed by Global News in the past few weeks.
Médecins Sans Frontières aid workers on the ground in West Africa insisted that WHO, the CDC and other health bodies needed to send more help to identify, treat and educate communities affected by the disease.
Canada, for its part, is telling Canadians to avoid travel to the West African regions hit hard by the outbreak. Last week, it upgraded its travel health notice, telling Canadians that they can help control the outbreak simply by staying away from these affected areas.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said that while the risk of contracting the disease is low, travellers could have a hard time finding access to health care if they get sick while in West Africa and they could also be exposed to the virus.
READ MORE: What you need to know about Ebola
– With files from the Associated Press and the Canadian Press