Terrifying toll of worst-ever outbreak of disease
Ebola is a frightening disease that can kill as many as nine out of every 10 people infected. It is painful and horrible; it kills by making its victims bleed to death internally.
There is no cure or vaccine. And right now, in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, it is killing people – 670 at least, at the time of writing, have died.
More than 1,200 people have been infected in this outbreak, making it the world's worst ever.
Most of the time, the disease sits harmlessly in fruit bat populations. But every so often, says Prof John Oxford, a virologist at the University of London, it makes an unlikely leap into humans.
"Perhaps someone eats bush meat, or comes into contact with bats. But then the virus makes it into a human body, and that human is pretty unlucky.
"After about a week, you get a huge frontal headache, a high temperature, maybe a rash. Then a few days later you get nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and then bleeding, from the eyes, from the mouth, from the backside."
For the men and women on the front line, the key is identifying the disease as early as possible. By the time an outbreak has been noticed, your best chance of containing it has long gone, says Prof Paul Hunter, a specialist in health protection at the University of East Anglia.
"The early symptoms are generic, so your judgment on whether the case in front of you is something dangerous depends on what's going on in the region – if there's been an outbreak of typhus, for instance."
But once doctors know what they are dealing with, the question is how to stop it from spreading. And in one sense, we're lucky – as frightening and unpleasant as Ebola is, it is not very infectious. (© Daily Telegraph, London)