Why the 2014 Ebola outbreak is worse than previous outbreaks

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Oct. 21 2014, Updated 9:00 a.m. ET

Previous Ebola outbreaks

The Ebola virus disease (or EVD) has a long history. The first two outbreaks were in 1976. There was one outbreak in Nzara, Sudan and another in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The outbreak started in a village near the Ebola River. In the previous Ebola outbreaks, deaths have varied from 25%–90%.


2014 Ebola outbreak

In March 2014, the first case of Ebola was recorded in West Africa. The 2014 Ebola outbreak has been the largest in history—in terms of widespread transmission and intensity.

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On August 8, 2014, the World Health Organization (or WHO) Director-General declared it as a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” For the first time, the United Nations created a mission for a public health emergency. The mission is called the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (or UNMEER). It’s meant to control the spread of the disease.

According to the WHO, in this year’s Ebola outbreak there have been more cases and deaths than the combined reports from all the previous outbreaks. The average case fatality rate has been 50%.

As of October 12, 2014, a total of 8,997 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases have been reported in the seven affected countries. The death toll has been 4,493. This is very high compared to the earlier Ebola or severe acute respiratory syndrome (or SARS) outbreaks. We’ll discuss SARS more in Part 4. Liberia reported the highest number of cases. It was followed by Sierra Leone and Guinea.

In the past, similar outbreaks had a severe economic impact on the overall economy—especially on airline companies. For North American airlines the loss from the SARS outbreak in 2003 was estimated at $1 billion. The industry lost 12.8 billion revenue passenger kilometers—3.7% of total international traffic. Passenger traffic decreased for all major U.S. airlines (XTN) including Delta (DAL), United (UAL), American (AAL), Southwest (LUV), JetBlue (or JBLU) and Alaska (or ALK).

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