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The deadliest Ebola outbreak in history is currently decimating West African nations' health care systems and sparking concern across the globe that the virus will continue to spread. But what has been seemingly overlooked in the past month's torrent of news coverage is that the current incarnation of the virus actually started in early December 2013.
The first patient in the Ebola outbreak is believed to be a 2-year-old boy from southeastern Guinea who died on Dec. 6. By late March, the virus had killed 66 people, and by April, it had crossed the border into Liberia.
In early July, when online searches for the virus were just starting to pick up, the outbreak had killed more than 600 people and spread into three countries. As Google Analytics shows, despite the rapid spread of the virus, Western attention to the outbreak has largely come only in the past couple of months.
Google Trends shows that searches for "Ebola" skyrocketed in late July and early August.
The New York Times first reported on the Ebola outbreak on March 24 in an article with the ominous title, "Ebola, Killing Scores in Guinea, Threatens Nearby Nations." In that report, the Times states that "the countries threatened by the outbreak are among the world’s poorest and cannot mount large public health efforts on their own." Those warnings have now come to fruition, with nations struggling to contain the virus that has now killed more than 1,500 people and threatens to infect up to 20,000, according to the World Health Organization.
Aid groups have pointed out a similarly sluggish response to the virus by medical officials and governments. Bloomberg notes that the World Health Organization predicted on May 18 that the virus was in its last days. There has also been a backlash against media coverage that was quick to capitalize on people's fears -- sometimes playing up offensive stereotypes about African countries in the process.