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CDC: Ebola is not a huge risk for U.S.
03:23 - Source: CNN

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American patients infected with Ebola will be brought home in separate trips

Medical plane will land at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia

Ebola outbreak is "moving faster than our efforts to control it," WHO leader says

CNN  — 

Fear over Ebola is growing as international leaders and health organizations struggle to try to stop the deadly epidemic in West Africa.

The Ebola outbreak “is moving faster than our efforts to control it,” Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, said in a statement Friday. “This is an unprecedented outbreak accompanied by unprecedented challenges. And these challenges are extraordinary.”

This is the first Ebola outbreak in West Africa and involves the most deadly strain in the Ebola virus family, Chan said.

“If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries.”

One of those countries could be the United States, health officials have said. In fact, the U.S. Department of State announced Friday that it is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to bring home two U.S. citizens who have been infected by Ebola in Liberia.

Here’s what you need to know about the Ebola outbreak today:

How many people have died?

As of Sunday, the World Health Organization had confirmed 909 cases and 485 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. It suspects that there may have been up to 1,323 cases and 729 deaths.

“The outbreak is by far the largest ever in the nearly four-decade history of this disease,” Chan said. “It is the largest in terms of numbers of cases and deaths. … It is the largest in terms of geographical areas already affected and others at immediate risk of further spread.”

CDC Director Tom Frieden said Thursday that it could take three to six months to stop the epidemic.

Why is it spreading so quickly?

First of all, there’s no vaccine for Ebola. So health officials have to stop the infection by isolating patients to prevent further transmission.

Past outbreaks have primarily occurred in rural areas, where people were not frequently traveling and infecting others. This outbreak has made it to several of the region’s major cities, including Freetown, Sierra Leone; Monrovia, Liberia; and Conakry, Guinea.

These cities have international airports, which opens up the possibility of infected patients traveling abroad. For example, American Patrick Sawyer became infected with Ebola in Liberia and traveled via plane to Lagos, Nigeria, where he died. Health officials are still tracing all the people he came in contact with along the way.

The outbreak is “taking place in areas with fluid population movements over porous borders, and it has demonstrated its ability to spread via air travel, contrary to what has been seen in past outbreaks,” Chan said.

“Cases are occurring in rural areas which are difficult to access, but also in densely populated capital cities.”

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Is Ebola is coming to the U.S.?

On Thursday, a medical charter plane outfitted with an isolation pod left Cartersville, Georgia, about 5 p.m. The aircraft was scheduled to fly to Monrovia, Liberia, and will return with either Dr. Kent Brantly or Nancy Writebol, who were infected with Ebola while working for the aid group Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia last week.

The two patients will be evacuated in separate trips, according to Samaritan’s Purse spokesman Todd Shearer. It is unclear who will be transported first but both evacuations “should be completed by early next week.”

Samaritan’s Purse has described Brantly and Writebol as being in grave but stable condition.

Several aid organizations, including the Peace Corps, are asking volunteers and nonessential personnel to leave the region. The evacuation of these staff members has begun, Samaritan’s Purse said.

Who approved that?

The decision was ultimately that of Samaritan’s Purse, Frieden told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The organization worked with the CDC to arrange the evacuation.

“Our role at CDC is to make sure in the transportation and in the care, any risk of infection to others is kept to the absolute minimum,” Frieden said. “I know it creates a fear in people, but I really hope that people’s fear won’t outweigh their compassion.”

Is the CDC ready to handle Ebola?

Trust in the CDC has waned in recent months, after multiple lapses in proper lab procedure put workers – and potentially the public – at risk. Investigators found that scientists had transported dangerous biological materials in Ziploc bags and once sent a live sample of bird flu to a low-security lab ill-equipped to handle the virus.

The investigation began in June, when workers based at the agency’s headquarters in Atlanta were