Ebola outbreak in West Africa worsens as death toll tops 600

A view of gloves and boots used by medical staff, drying in the sun, at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guekedou, on April 1, 2014.  Photo by Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images

A view of gloves and boots used by medical staff, drying in the sun, at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guekedou, on April 1, 2014. Photo by Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images

The deadliest-ever epidemic of the Ebola virus has claimed 603 lives in West Africa since an outbreak was confirmed in February, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.

The WHO said that 85 new cases and 69 deaths were reported between July 8-12, indicating a “high level of transmission” of the hemorrhagic fever across Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. WHO anticipates the virus will spread to neighboring countries as efforts to contain the outbreak continue to fall short.

Health workers are having difficulty accessing affected West African communities because there’s a deep mistrust of doctors, and many patients believe that hospitalization is a “death sentence.”

The Ebola virus, which has no cure or vaccine, is easily transmitted by bodily fluids or infected tissues and has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent. In Guinea, government officials banned public funerals for Ebola victims to reduce the risk of exposure. Sierra Leone officials have advised the public to not consume”bush meat,” or dead animals found in the bush, including monkeys, chimpanzees and bats.

Symptoms of Ebola include vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding and can emulate other tropical diseases such as malaria and cholera.

Named after the location of its first appearance, the virus was first documented in a village near the Ebola River in 1976. The death toll then was 280. WHO said the current strain is unrelated to past outbreaks.

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