Health workers take blood samples for Ebola virus testing at a hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, in June.

REUTERS/Tommy Trenchard

Health workers take blood samples for Ebola virus testing at a hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, in June.

Ebola outbreak still accelerating

The Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa is still picking up speed, according to new case and fatality numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO) today. More than 3069 cases have been reported, and at least 1552 had died as of 26 August—but the real numbers may be two to four times higher, the agency says. WHO now says that the outbreak will likely continue for at least 6 to 9 more months, and as many as 20,000 people could ultimately be infected. A “road map” for bringing the situation under control estimates the cost at $490 million. That includes, for example, nearly 8000 personnel in Liberia alone to staff isolation and treatment centers, trace contacts, safely bury the dead, and coordinate logistics. The budget estimate includes $6 million for safe burials of up to 13,500 victims.

More than 40% of the total cases have been identified in the last 3 weeks, WHO says—a clear sign that the epidemic is gathering speed instead of declining. In Liberia, where Ebola is spreading in densely populated Monrovia, there are at least 694 cases, an increase of 296 since the last report from 20 August. There are also new cases in Nigeria, where a traveler from Liberia infected medical personnel and other contacts. The new cases are connected to a diplomat who eluded official surveillance and traveled to Port Harcourt, where he sought medical treatment. The diplomat recovered, but the doctor who treated him died, and 70 contacts of the patient and the doctor are now under surveillance. So far at least 17 people have been infected in Nigeria, six of whom have died.

One glimmer of good news: The fatality rate appears to be not as high as it was in previous outbreaks of Ebola virus. So far, WHO says, the overall fatality rate among identified cases is 52%, ranging from 42% in Sierra Leone to 66% in Guinea.

*The Ebola Files: Given the current Ebola outbreak, unprecedented in terms of number of people killed and rapid geographic spread, Science and Science Translational Medicine have made a collection of research and news articles on the viral disease freely available to researchers and the general public.

Posted in Africa, Health Ebola