Doctors have described the ongoing Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria as an "out of control epidemic." Here's how its death toll compares to other epidemics and disease outbreaks of the last decade:
As of July 27, there were 1,323 documented cases of Ebola in west Africa, including 729 deaths. That makes it roughly as deadly as the SARS outbreak that happened 10 years ago, which killed 774 people. It's probably worth noting, however, that the SARS victims were spread out over five different continents while Ebola is so far limited to four west African nations.
By far the most deadly disease to spike in recent years was the flu pandemic that began in 2008, which killed 284,000 people worldwide.
Every continent but Antarctica saw cases of "swine flu" — or, officially, Influenza A H1N1 — and the estimated death toll rose to 15 times the number of confirmed cases as researchers charted the disease. The pandemic disproportionately hit Africa and Southeast Asia, with 51% of all deaths happening in those regions, according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
HIV/AIDS has been even more deadly, killing a staggering 36 million people since 1981. Millions more continue to live with the disease:
The graph above shows how many people are living with HIV/AIDS in the countries with the highest numbers of patients.
Unlike the epidemics mentioned above, HIV/AIDS has been killing multitudes of people for an entire generation. In 2012 alone, it killed 1.6 million people. To put the scope of HIV/AIDS into persecutive, more people have died from the disease in the last 33 years than currently live in at least the 15 most populous U.S. cities.
Even though the severity of the current Ebola epidemic is dwarfed by other deadly diseases, it's still extremely serious.
For one thing, the Ebola epidemic is ongoing, while with the notable exception of HIV/AIDS, most of the other big outbreaks of the last decade are essentially finished. (Cholera in Haiti also remains a problem, but one that is diminishing somewhat.)
That means we still don't know how Ebola will compare. Making matters even worse, authorities have said Ebola is spreading faster than they can contain it. That means the death toll will rise, as will the "socioeconomic disruption." There also is currently no cure or vaccine for Ebola.
The current Ebola epidemic also stands out for being the worst outbreak ever of the disease. By far:
Though it's unclear how the current epidemic will end, the World Health Organization on Friday announced a $100 million response. Scientists also are fast-tracking work on a vaccine that has shown promise when given to monkeys.