Ebola Prompts Peace Corps To Evacuate Hundreds Of Volunteers From West Africa

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The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has frightened international relief workers and travelers alike. On Wednesday, the Peace Corps evacuated volunteers in Ebola-stricken West Africa, allowing them to temporarily return to the United States. According to the Peace Corps, the volunteers were removed from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — three nations that have been hit the hardest by the dangerous, highly contagious virus.

In a statement, the Peace Corps said:

The Peace Corps has enjoyed long partnerships with the government and people of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and is committed to continuing volunteers’ work there. A determination on when volunteers can return will be made at a later date.

The Peace Corps officials added that they'll continue to monitor the Ebola outbreak, and are working in coordination with experts from the U.S. Department of State and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency reportedly trained its volunteers in West Africa in how to protect themselves and others from contracting the deadly virus over the last few months.

There are 102 Peace Corps volunteers stationed in Guinea, 130 in Sierra Leone, and 108 in Liberia. Peace Corps workers are serving these countries in a variety of areas, including agriculture, education and health, the agency said.

The sudden evacuation of Peace Corps members was triggered by the recent quarantine of two volunteers stationed in Liberia. The Washington Post reported that the two workers were in recent contact with someone who died from the virus, so they may have been exposed. The volunteers will return to the United States once they're medically cleared.

Of course, the Ebola virus continues to spread throughout West Africa at an alarming rate. According to the United Nations, more than 650 people in West Africa have died from the Ebola virus since February. A recent report from the World Health Organization found that 122 new Ebola cases and 57 deaths were confirmed between July 24 and 27 in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria.

This week, a prominent African doctor who was one of the leaders in the fight against Ebola, Sheik Umar Khan, died from the disease. Khan reportedly treated 100 patients with the virus before his death. "It is a big and irreparable loss to Sierra Leone as he was the only specialist the country had in viral hemorrhagic fevers," Dr. Brima Kargbo, a chief medical officer in Sierra Leone, told The Independent.

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According to the CDC, Ebola is contracted through direct contact with bodily fluids, or exposure to contaminated objects. Unless caught early, the virus is fatal. However, because early symptoms are common ailments such as headaches and fever, doctors say the disease can be hard to diagnose.

The first-known Ebola outbreak occurred in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it killed 280 people. The current crisis West Africa is the largest-reported Ebola outbreak in history, claiming the most lives since the 2007 outbreak that killed 187 people in the Congo, according to data from the CDC.