"Ebola virus has been controlled in the past, and can be again" - by Laurie Garrett

The Ebola epidemic now raging across three countries in West Africa is three-fold larger than any other outbreak ever recorded for this terrible disease; the only one to have occurred in urban areas and to cross national borders; and officially urgent and serious. 

At least 1,090 people have contracted the awful disease this year, though the epidemic's true scope is unknown because of widespread opposition to health authorities in afflicted Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

This week, 39-year-old physician Sheik Umar Khan -- labeled the country's hero for his brave leadership of the epidemic fight -- was hospitalized with Ebola, adding yet another public fear: that even the doctors cannot escape the disease.

But as terrifying as Ebola is, the virus has been controlled in the past, and can be again. The current crisis, which threatens an 11-nation region of Africa that includes the continent's giant, Nigeria, is not a biological or medical one so much as it is political. The three nations in Ebola's thrall need technical support from outsiders but will not succeed in stopping the virus until each nation's leaders embrace effective governance.

As was the case in Kikwit, Zaire, in 1995 -- an Ebola outbreak I personally was in as a journalist -- there is no vaccine or cure for the disease. The key to stopping its spread is rapid identification of the sick; removal of the ailing and deceased from their homes; and quarantine and high hygiene measures to prevent transmission of the virus to family members and health care workers.

In the absence of such measures, Ebola will kill upwards of 70% of those it infects, as the virus punches holes in veins, causing massive internal hemorrhaging and bleeding from the eyes, ears, mouth and all other orifices.

...Laurie Garrett is senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.