GENEVA - A new study warns of tens of thousands of Ebola cases in West Africa in the coming months if swift action is not taken to curb this deadly disease. An article appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine provides new data on the scale and spread of this deadly disease.
The report notes the world was late in reacting to the Ebola epidemic and has a lot of catching up to do to control and reverse the trend of infections.
September 23 marks six months since the World Health Organization was notified of the outbreak in Guinea. But Director of Strategy for WHO and co-author of the study Christopher Dye said the outbreak actually started nine months ago.
“We are now in the third explosive phase of growth of the epidemic. This is exponential increase with hundreds going into thousands of cases per week and if we do not stop the epidemic very soon, this is going to turn from a disaster into a catastrophe... If we do not do anything immediately, then the exponential growth that has been forecast will continue so far as we can see and we will have not a few thousand cases, but probably tens of thousands of cases,” said Dye.
The latest WHO figures put the number of cases at more than 5,800, with at least 2,800 deaths. Professor of Statistical Epidemiology at Imperial College and co-author of the report, Christl Donnelly said the number of cases is projected to quadruple by the end of October.
“So that by the second of November, over these three countries, our best estimate is over 20,000 cases confirmed and suspected cases. So divided up between nearly 10,000 of those in Liberia, 5,000 in Sierra Leone and nearly 6,000 in Guinea,” said Donnelly.
Just three weeks ago, WHO predicted the number of Ebola cases could exceed 20,000 over the next six months. The co-authors of the study say the terrifying speed with which the virus is spreading is extremely worrisome.
The study shows almost equal numbers of males and females are getting sick from Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The data also indicate more than 70 percent of Ebola patients have died, but fatality rates are lower among patients who get good, supportive health care quickly.
Dye said the infection and spread of the virus are similar to those in previous outbreaks in Central Africa. He said cross border movement among people in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, as well as cultural practices, such as burial ceremonies, are factors leading to the rapid spread of the disease.
“The rate of spread, of course, has been facilitated by our inability to understand when the outbreak first happened. It was relatively small at first. And, to put in place very quickly control measures, the infection control measures that we know will stop transmission,” said Dye.
He said control measures include improvements in contact tracing, isolating Ebola patients, the increase of quality of care, greater community engagement, and support from international partners.
International involvement in combating Ebola in West Africa has risen in recent weeks. A number of countries are sending thousands of doctors, nurses, technicians and support staff to West Africa. The United Nations has approved a $1 billion response plan.
In a bit of positive news, WHO reported that Nigeria and Senegal have not reported any cases of Ebola for more than 21 days.