by Kaisa Stucke & Bill O’Grady
Last week marked six months since the Ebola outbreak was identified in the African country of Guinea. The current Ebola epidemic is the largest, most severe and most complex outbreak of the disease in the history of the virus. More cases have been diagnosed and more people have died than in all the prior outbreaks combined. All 24 of the previous outbreaks have occurred in Central Africa. The virus was able to spread undetected for months as this is the first episode of the virus to take place in West Africa. Complicating the initial diagnosis was the fact that the symptoms of Ebola are identical to many other diseases in the region.
Ebola is a viral hemorrhaging fever that attacks the blood vessels, causing internal bleeding and leading to multiple organ failure. Fast-spreading and fatal in more than half the cases, the virus can be easily spread through direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids or contact with contaminated items. The symptoms start after an incubation period of two to 21 days, and it is believed that a person is only contagious after symptoms appear.
Since the disease is so fast-spreading and healthcare facilities so strained, it is hard to keep an accurate running count but as of the time of this writing the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the case count is currently at 6,574 and the death count is 3,091. Global observers believe that this number is underestimated. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated last week that the total number of cases could reach between 550,000 and 1.4 million by January 2015. Without a significant improvement in fighting the disease, the number of cases could double every 20 days. We note that this estimate does not account for the recently announced funding support from the U.S. to combat the disease.
This week, we will explore the Ebola outbreak, looking at the origin of the disease, how it has spread and how it has developed into a serious epidemic. Although it is hard to find comparable epidemics due to the complexities of the disease, we will look at a couple of other disease outbreaks in order to gain a better understanding of the scale of the current Ebola epidemic. As always, we will finish with geopolitical and market ramifications.