WHO declares Ebola outbreak a public health emergency
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 07: Director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tom Frieden waits for the beginning of a hearing before the Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee August 7, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The subcommittee held a hearing on the recent outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Africa. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bisa Williams of the Bureau of African Affairs waits to testify before the Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Subcommittee hearing on 'Combating the Ebola Threat' at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, on August 7, 2014. Overwhelmed west African nations called states of emergency on Thursday as the death toll from a fast-spreading Ebola epidemic neared 1,000. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A nurse wears protective clothing as he demonstrates the facilities in place at the Royal Free Hospital in north London on August 6, 2014, in preparation for a patient testing positive for the Ebola virus. The specialised unit allows a team of doctors and nurses to provide care for anyone with the contagious condition. Despite it's high mortality level, Consultant Stephen Mepham advised against panic, stating that the chances of meeting an undiagnosed patient are virtually impossible with next to no chance of catching the virus without exposure to the sufferer's bodily fluids. AFP PHOTO/Leon Neal (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Television trucks outside Mount Sinai Hospital August 4, 2014 in New York after officials announced a male patient who recently traveled to West Africa is being tested for the ebola virus. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 01: Dr. Bruce Ribner, an epidemiologist and professor in the School of Medicine's Infectious Diseases Division, confirms that Emory University Hospital will be receiving and treating two American patients diagnosed with Ebola virus during a press conference at Emory University Hospital on August 1, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Ebola infected patients will be transported to Emory University Hospital from Liberia in the next couple of days and receive supportive care and treatment in a isolation unit separate from the general hospital. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
A man reads a newspaper featuring a front page story on the death of Liberian diplomat Patrick Sawyer (pictured with his wife Decontee) who died of the Ebloa virus in Lagos on July 30, 2014. Nigeria is on alert against the possible spread of Ebola after the first confirmed death from the virus in Lagos, Africa's biggest city and the country's financial capital. The victim, who worked for the Liberian government, collapsed at Lagos international airport after arriving on a flight from Monrovia via the Togolese capital Lome, according to the Nigerian government. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned that the crisis gripping Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone would only get worse and could not rule out it spreading to other countries. AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) wearing protective gear walk outside the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital, on July 23, 2014 in Conakry. A Liberian man has been hospitalised in Lagos with Ebola-like symptoms, but it is not yet clear if he is infected with the killer virus, Nigerian officials said on July 24. Ebola first emerged in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and is named after a river in that country. AFP PHOTO / CELLOU BINANI (Photo credit should read CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on July 24, 2014 shows a staff member of the Christian charity Samaritan's Purse carrying a spray gun as he treats the area at the entrance of the ELWA hospital in the Liberian capital Monrovia. An American doctor battling West Africa's Ebola epidemic has himself fallen sick with the disease in Liberia, Samaritan's Purse said on July 27. AFP PHOTO / ZOOM DOSSO (Photo credit should read ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo provided by the Spanish Defense Ministry, aid workers and doctors transfer Miguel Pajares, a Spanish priest who was infected with the Ebola virus while working in Liberia, from a plane to an ambulance as he leaves the Torrejon de Ardoz military airbase, near Madrid, Spain, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. A Spanish missionary priest who tested positive for the Ebola virus was in stable condition at a Madrid hospital on Thursday after being evacuated from Liberia, health officials said. (AP Photo/Spanish Defense Ministry)
LONDON (AP) -- The World Health Organization on Friday declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to be an international public health emergency that requires an extraordinary response to stop its spread.
The WHO announced the Ebola outbreak - the largest and longest in history - is worrying enough to merit being declared an international health emergency. WHO declared similar emergencies for the swine flu pandemic in 2009 and for polio in May.
This agency had convened an expert committee this week to assess the severity of the ongoing epidemic.
The current outbreak of Ebola began in Guinea in March and has since spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. There is no licensed treatment or vaccine for Ebola and the death rate has been about 50 percent.
The impact of the WHO declaration is unclear; a similar announcement made about polio doesn't yet seem to have slowed the spread of virus. During a WHO meeting last week to reconsider the status of polio, experts noted countries hadn't yet fully applied the recommendations made in May, there have been more instances of international spread and that outbreaks have worsened in Pakistan and Cameroon.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have already elevated its Ebola response to the highest level and it has recommended against traveling to West Africa. On Thursday, CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden told a Congressional hearing that the current outbreak is set to sicken more people than all previous outbreaks of the disease combined.
"I don't know what the advantage is of declaring an international emergency," said Dr. David Heymann, who directed WHO's response to the SARS outbreak and is now a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
"This could bring in more foreign aid but we don't know that yet," he said.