EbolaReading this article in the New York Times sent a chill up my spine. “Cordon Sanitaire” – a disease-fighting tactic not used in nearly a century in which a line is drawn around the infected area and no one is allowed out. It is now being employed in the out-of-control Ebola outbreak. Gulp.

Cordons, common in the medieval era of the Black Death, have not been seen since the border between Poland and Russia was closed in 1918 to stop typhus from spreading west. They have the potential to become brutal and inhumane. Centuries ago, in their most extreme form, everyone within the boundaries was left to die or survive, until the outbreak ended.

The current plan is to isolate a triangular area where the three countries – Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – meet, separated only by porous borders, and where 70 percent of the cases known at that time had been found.

un-cordon-sanitaire-pour-endiguer-lepidemieTroops began closing internal roads in Liberia and Sierra Leone last week. The epidemic began in southern Guinea in December, but new cases there have slowed to a trickle. In the other two countries, the number of new cases is still rapidly rising. As of Monday, the region had seen 1,848 cases and 1,013 deaths, according to the World Health Organization, although many experts think that the real count is much higher because families in remote villages are avoiding hospitals and hiding victims.

Nigeria is not involved because its small Ebola outbreak is hundreds of miles away. All 10 confirmed cases there are in Lagos, the financial capital, and all are apparently linked to a Liberian-American who arrived there on a flight and later died.

This ebola outbreak remains out of control and it will be some time before medicine gets the upper hand.