The World Health Organization declared on Friday that the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa constitutes an international health emergency.

“This morning I am declaring the current outbreak of Ebola virus disease a public health emergency of international concern. The committee’s decision was unanimous. Its advice to me acknowledges the serious and unusual nature of the outbreak and the potential for further international spread, but also the need for strong international coordination of the response,” WHO director general Dr. Margaret Chan made the announcement at a Geneva press conference.

In the worst outbreak in 40 years, the spread of Ebola haemorrhagic fever in West Africa started in Guinea in February, then went to Sierra Leone and Liberia.

There have now been 329 cases of Ebola in Liberia, with 156 deaths alone. The West Africa outbreak has so far resulted in more than 1,300 confirmed cases and 729 deaths.

There is a chance that a passenger could board a flight before developing full-blown symptoms, but it is difficult for the virus to spread in the early stages of the disease.

According to the WHO, patients are most contagious when Ebola haemorrhagic fever is in its terminal stages and causes massive internal bleeding, profuse vomiting and diarrhoea. At that stage patients should have already been quarantined by authorities.

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