Grim Pictures

Published: 2014-10-01 10:38 |

Category: Grad |

Since early this year, the WHO has been calling for international aid in response to a burgeoning crisis in west Africa. There had been a confirmed death and further infections due to Ebola virus. Initially, it’s mortality rate was above 65% for infected individuals. Fast forward six months and the death toll has topped 3,000 with five countries officially recognizing infected individuals.

It hasn’t been in the news much because the media typically covers “disaster moments.” NPR’s Planet Money podcast took an insightful look at why it is just coming to American’s attention. I decided to grab some readily available data from the CDC, the WHO, and other international relief agencies to put some of these numbers in perspective.


Ebola virus data is easy to track down because it was only identified in 1976 in the Philippines. Since then, every outbreak has been documented by major health organizations. Most of the cases since 1976 have occurred in central Africa.

Confirmed Ebola virus deaths in Africa, 1976 - 2012.

Confirmed Ebola virus deaths in Africa, 1976 – 2012.

In the past, these infections have been isolated to remote regions in the bush country (Ebola is contracted from contaminated bush game meat), so transmission was limited. The current outbreak region is centralized in heavily-populated urban areas.

Confrmed Ebola virus deaths, 2014.

Confrmed Ebola virus deaths in Africa, 2014.

Higher population density with low-quality health care facilities translates to a higher rate of infection. How much higher?

Historical Perspective

There have been Ebola virus outbreaks every few years since it was identified in the late 1970’s. Like I mentioned earlier, these cases are well-documented by health organizations globally. This year’s outbreak is nearly three times as large as all other outbreaks…combined.

Comparing all Ebola virus deaths, 1976 - 2012 to the present outbreak.

Documented Ebola virus deaths 1976 – 2012 to the present outbreak.

The infection rate has also skyrocketed due to the urban spread of this particular outbreak.

Rate of Ebola virus infection, 1994 - present

Rate of Ebola virus infection, 1994 – present


There is a sliver of good news in this last picture: the mortality rate is slowly decreasing. Typically, the mortality rate for Ebola virus infection hovers around 50%. The current outbreak mortality rate, overall, is roughly 30%. However, individual nations have varying rates (Liberia has a 54% mortality rate currently). As international aid and global awareness increases, the transmission of the disease will eventually slow. However, if international response is not increased significantly in the coming weeks, the infection rate will continue to grow exponentially, and the virus will continue to jump borders.

All of the aggregate data can be seen here.

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