The World Health Organization has declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a global health emergency, the latest sign that the crisis has spiraled out of control, according to the New York Times.
The international health organization reserves the global health emergency designation only for events of catastrophic magnitude.
As of Monday, the Ebola outbreak in the DRC has killed 1,676 people and infected 2,512 in total, making it the second deadliest Ebola episode in recorded history.
The infectious disease has been able to spread so rapidly in the country because of a conflict that has destabilized local health care systems and made it difficult for health workers to reach affected populations and stem the contagion.
Health officials worry that Ebola could spread to surrounding countries, which would create a regional crisis that could overwhelm local health systems and go global.
By declaring a global health emergency, the WHO will be able to mobilize more resources and create enhanced security protocols to limit the spread of the disease. The WHO does not yet recommend any travel restrictions.
Ebola is a rare virus that spreads through direct bodily contact with a person who is infected. Its initial symptoms — fever, vomiting, aches and pains — resemble the flu, but the virus can lead to hemorraging, the breakdown of organ systems, and even death without urgent medical attention.
The very young, very old, and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk of dying from the disease. People without access to quality health care can also die from ebola because of the extreme loss of bodily fluids it entails.