* Ebola epidemic has killed 932 people in four countries
* WHO says outbreak, most severe yet, can be stopped
* Infected patients should be kept in isolation for 30 days
* No travel or trade restrictions advised at this point
(Adds bullets, quotes, details on patient isolation, reaction)
By Kate Kelland, Health and Science Correspondent
LONDON, Aug 8 West Africa's Ebola epidemic is an
"extraordinary event" and now constitutes an international
health risk, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday.
The Geneva-based U.N. health agency said the possible
consequences of a further international spread of the outbreak,
which has killed almost 1,000 people in four West African
countries, were "particularly serious" in view of the virulence
of the virus.
"A coordinated international response is deemed essential to
stop and reverse the international spread of Ebola," the WHO
said in a statement after a two-day meeting of its emergency
committee on Ebola.
The declaration of an international emergency will have the
effect of raising the level of vigilance on the virus.
"The outbreak is moving faster than we can control it," the
WHO's director-general Margaret Chan told reporters on a
telephone briefing from the WHO's Geneva headquarters.
"The declaration ... will galvanise the attention of leaders
of all countries at the top level. It cannot be done by the
ministries of health alone."
The agency said that, while all states with Ebola
transmission - so far Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone
- should declare a national emergency, there should be no
general ban on international travel or trade.
"THIS CAN BE STOPPED"
Ebola has no proven cures and there is no vaccine to prevent
infection, so treatment focuses on alleviating symptoms such as
fever, vomiting and diarrhoea - all of which can contribute to
Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's head of health security, stressed
that, with the right measures to deal with infected people, the
spread of Ebola - which is transmitted through direct contact
with bodily fluids - could be stopped.
"This is not a mysterious disease. This is an infectious
disease that can be contained," he told reporters. "It is not a
virus that is spread through the air."
Fukuda said it was important that anyone known to have Ebola
should be immediately isolated and treated and kept in isolation
for 30 days. "Based on scientific studies, people who have
infection can shed virus for up to 30 days," he said.
The current outbreak, in which at least 1,711 people have so
far been infected, of whom 932 have died, is the most severe in
the almost 40 years since Ebola was identified in humans.
The WHO said this was partly because of the weakness of the
health systems in the countries currently affected, which lacked
human, financial and material resources.
It also said inexperience in dealing with Ebola outbreaks
and misperceptions of the disease, including how it is
transmitted, "continue to be a major challenge in some
"If we do not in global solidarity come together to help
these countries, they will be set back for many years," Chan
said. She noted the three hardest-hit nations had only begun to
emerge and rebuild after "years of conflict and difficulties".
Although most cases of Ebola are in the remote area where
Guinea borders Sierra Leone and Liberia, alarm over the spread
of the disease increased last month when a U.S. citizen died in
Nigeria after travelling there by plane from Liberia.
After an experimental drug was administered to two U.S.
charity workers who were infected in Liberia, Ebola specialists
urged the WHO to offer such drugs to Africans. The U.N. agency
has asked medical ethics experts to explore this option next
David Heymann, a former WHO official and now director of the
Chatham House Centre on Global Health Security, who this week
urged the WHO to show greater leadership and to consider
allowing the use of experimental drugs for Africans affected by
Ebola, said governments should step up their response.
The major message, he said, was that the three known
measures that stop Ebola outbreaks - hospital infection control,
community understanding of risks of infection, and contact
tracing - "appear not to have been robustly enough applied".
"Governments appear to not have been engaged as necessary,"
he said in an emailed response to the WHO's statement.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland, additional reporting and editing by