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ebbolaThe Ebola outbreak in West Africa was first reported in March, and has rapidly become the deadliest occurrence of the disease since its discovery in 1976.

In fact, the current epidemic that has swept across West Africa is not only the worst single Ebola outbreak in history, it has now killed more than all the others combined.

Up to 14 September, 2,630 people had been reported as having died from the disease in four countries; Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. The total number of reported cases was in excess of 5,300.

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) admits the figures are underestimates, warning that there could be as many as 20,000 cases in the region before the outbreak is brought under control.

Up to 14 September: 2,630 Ebola deaths – probable, confirmed and suspected. 1,459 in Liberia, in Guinea 601, 562 in Sierra Leone and 8 in Nigeria

In August, the United Nations health agency declared an “international public health emergency”, saying that a co-ordinated response was essential to halt the spread of the virus.

However, WHO director general Margaret Chan said earlier this month that the “number of patients is moving far faster than the capacity to manage them”.

The concern is that there appears no indication of a reversal in the three countries worst affected, Guinea, Sierra Leone and in particular Liberia.

According to a WHO update released on 18 September, the number of new cases continues to increase, with 700 reported in the week to 14 September.

Researchers from the New England Journal of Medicine have traced the outbreak to a two-year-old girl, who died on 6 December 2013 in Meliandou, a small village in south-eastern Guinea.

In March, hospital staff alerted Guinea’s Ministry of Health and then the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). They reported a mysterious disease in the south-eastern regions of Gueckedou, Macenta, Nzerekore, and Kissidougou.

It caused fever, diarrhoea and vomiting. It also had a high death rate. Of the first 86 cases, 59 people died.

The WHO later confirmed the disease as Ebola.