On this episode of What happened to…? Erica Vella revisits the West Africa Ebola outbreak that began in 2014 and infected tens of thousands of people.
In June 2014, cases of Ebola were reported in Guinea and the disease began to rapidly spread across the border to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
More than 28,000 people became ill with the disease and over 11,000 died.
The 2014 outbreak was the first Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
According to the World Health Organization, it first appeared in two simultaneous outbreaks in 1976 in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The outbreak in DRC happened in a village near the Ebola River and that’s where the illness gets its name.
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The early symptoms of an Ebola infection include fever, headache, muscle aches and sore throat, according to the World Health Organization. It can be difficult to distinguish between Ebola and the symptoms of malaria, typhoid fever or cholera. Only in later stages do people with Ebola begin bleeding both internally and externally, often through the nose and ears.
“There’s a region where the borders of Guinea and Sierra Leone and Liberia all come together and people in that community, they cross those borders on a daily basis. There’s a lot of cross-border business and travel. Anything that affects one country in that region, it’s going to spread to the others. So it started in Guinea and spread quickly to Liberia,” said Dr. Kent Brantly.
Dr. Brantly is originally from U.S. but he had arrived in Monrovia, Liberia in October 2013 and he was working at the ELWA hospital at the time of the Ebola outbreak.
“Every patient that we had who tested positive for Ebola in those first six or seven weeks, every one of them died except for one patient who was a young boy who had tested positive,” he said.
“At that time, there was no treatment for Ebola. It was just supportive care. It was making sure that people stay hydrated, giving them vitamins, treating their pain with with Tylenol but even that was very challenging. It’s hard to take vital signs when you’re wearing that PPE and you can’t use a stethoscope. It it was hard to give IV fluids to patients. … It was incredibly challenging.”
Dr. Brantly had been treating patients with Ebola for several weeks and on July 23, 2014, he woke up feeling ill.
“I just didn’t feel good. … I also knew I had been treating patients with Ebola for about seven weeks, and I knew that I needed to keep myself isolated until I knew for sure what was was happening with me,” he said.
Dr. Brantly would eventually be given the officially diagnosis; he was ill with Ebola and the U.S. doctor was transported to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
On this episode, Erica Vella speaks Dr. Brantly who shares his experience and she speaks with other with health-care workers who were on the front lines, battling Ebola. She finds out where it came from, why it spread so quickly and how the 2014 outbreak impacted communities in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
— with Files from the Associated Press.
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