(Image courtesy of EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection under a Creative Commons license.)
Journalists around the world are scrambling to cover the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, which is tearing its way through West Africa.
As of July 27, the World Health Organization, in partnership with the Ministries of Health in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, had announced a cumulative total of 1,700 suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola virus disease and 932 deaths.
First discovered in 1976, Ebola is a highly infectious virus that leads to flu-like symptoms and severe internal bleeding. It is spread through close contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person. For those who contract the virus, the survival rate is very low; between 60 and 90 percent of people who develop Ebola will die from it.
For journalists on the ground covering the story, the risks run high. “You can’t really control where you are or what to do to avoid getting infected,” Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda, who was on assignment for the New York Times in Guinea last week, told TIME. “It was scary, and sad.”
Governments, even where there are few or no cases, are struggling to prevent the spread of the virus, for which there is no cure. In Nigeria, officials are searching for people who may have had contact with the country's sole victim so far, but "the bigger concern now is about preparedness for managing crises," ICFJ Knight International Journalist Fellow Cece Fadope, told the International Journalists' Network (IJNet).
Weak health infrastructure, a lack of professionals available to treat patients, as well as fear or mistrust of foreign health workers could heighten the spread of the disease. Because of the way Ebola is contracted, family members and health care workers at the scene are most at risk.
I recently compiled a list of resources to consult when reporting on Ebola, published on IJNet.org. To access those resources, click here.