Ebola Crisis in West Africa Worsens, Kills More Than 500

The outbreak across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone has become the largest on record.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are all facing a recent outbreak of one of the world’s most deadly diseases.

Ebola, a cureless hemorrhagic fever that can cause its victims to bleed from the nose and ears, has turned up in the three West African countries where medical clinics are scant, causing 539 deaths. The outbreak is now the largest on record.

There has been "a gross misjudgment across the board in gauging the severity and scale of damage the current Ebola outbreak can unleash," the aid group Plan International warned earlier this month. Last Friday, 44 new cases and 21 deaths were reported by the World Health Organization.

While there are no Ebola cases from outside Africa to date, Dr. Unni Krishnan, Plan International’s head of disaster preparedness and response, believes that the threat of it spreading "is very much there.”

Isolation is the key to stopping the disease, but reports claim that fear and panic are driving some patients into hiding. Local activists, including musician and activist Juli Endee, have launched efforts to spread awareness in the countryside where literacy is low.

"Do not touch people with the signs of Ebola,” sings the chorus of a song about Ebola. "Don't eat bush meat. Don't play with monkey and baboons. Plums that bats have bitten or half-eaten, don't eat them.”

Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recently announced that anyone found or reported to be holding suspected Ebola cases in homes or prayer houses can be prosecuted under the country’s law. Sierra Leone also issued a similar warning after several patients discharged themselves from the hospital and went into hiding.

Still, WHO health officials are hopeful they will be able to get the situation under control in the next several weeks, AP reports.

"When you have it spread, of course it's moving in the wrong direction," Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO's assistant director-general for health security and environment, told AP. "You want to see the number of infections going down. So we really have to redouble our efforts. But saying that it's out of control makes it sound like there are no solutions. This is a virus for which there are very clear solutions.”

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 (Photo: WHO, Christopher Black, HO, File/AP Photo)

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