Forecast For Ebola In West Africa Worsens
Sobering news from the World Health Organization.
The World Health Organization has issued a new forecast for the future spread of Ebola in western Africa, and its much worse than previous forecasts:
The World Health Organization reported sobering new figures Tuesday about the Ebolaoutbreak ravaging West Africa, saying the mortality rate had risen to 70 percent and that the number of new cases could reach 10,000 per week by December.
The organization had been saying that the number of new cases was about 1,000 per week for the past four weeks, and that the mortality rate for Ebola had been around 50 percent.
The updated figures were provided by Dr. Bruce Aylward, the health organization’s assistant director general, during a telephone news conference from its Geneva headquarters.
He also said that as of Tuesday, the total number of Ebola cases over the course of the epidemic had reached 8,914, with 4,447 deaths. The vast majority are in the three most afflicted countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Just on Friday, the organization said that the deaths totaled 4,024 — indicating that hundreds more people have died in a matter of days.
Dr. Aylward, an infectious diseases specialist who just completed a visit to West Africa, said the survival rate was now “30 percent at most in these countries.” That suggests that patients have become more likely to die from the disease as the outbreak has spread — even as the international campaign to fight it has escalated. .
The epidemic has continued to expand geographically and now affects more areas than a month ago, including parts of Sierra Leone close to the border with Ivory Coast, Dr. Aylward said, and the number of infections was still rising in the capitals of the three worst-hit countries.
He described Ebola as “a high-mortality disease in any circumstance but especially in these countries.”
Dr. Aylward said the health organization was particularly focused on isolating 70 percent of new patients in the next two months — to remove them from situations in which they can pass the disease to others and begin reversing the tide of the Ebola virus.
While Dr. Aylward acknowledged the recent surge in international pledges to combat Ebola’s spread, he said that without a further escalation in help over the next 60 days, “a lot more people will die.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve gotten a seemingly gloom and doom projection for the spread of Ebola. Just last month, the Centers for Disease Control issued a projection that included a worst case scenario of as many as 21,000 diagnosed cases of Ebola in the affected countries by September 30 and over one million by January. We have already passed the first deadline and the worst case scenario was not reached, so it’s worth taking this latest projections with some degree of sober skepticism. At the same time, though, there seem to be several factors associated with this outbreak that could make things very bad very quickly in nations with health care systems are already, to say the least, sub-par. For one thing, the mortality rate of 70% is significantly higher than what had been previously reported in other outbreaks, which was roughly in the neighborhood of 50%, which is high but not nearly as bad as one that says that 7 in 10 of the people who become infected with Ebola will end up dead. Some researchers have speculated that this higher mortality rate, and the faster rate at which the virus is spreading in west Africa is due to the fact that the strain of virus involved in this outbreak is more virulent than past strains. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the manner in which it is transmitted will change. The danger of Ebola becoming airborne like the common cold and the flu still seems to be quite remote. It does seem to mean, though, that it is now more likely that someone who comes in contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person will themselves become infected, and that that person will die if they don’t receive immediate treatment. Arguably, the cases of Thomas Eric Duncan and the Dallas nurse who became infected while treating him, along with the cases such as the two American doctors who were treated at Emory University and the NBC cameraman being treated in Nebraska, are consistent with that theory. That kind of a stronger virus in the already devastated and poor nations of western Africa would seem to be the perfect recipe for disaster.
What all of this suggests, of course, is that the public health officials who have been arguing that the best strategy for the world to combat this outbreak, and to prevent it from spreading wider, would be to concentrate on containing its spread in western Africa. Isolating those countries form the rest of the world, as some have seemed to suggest, would only seem to guarantee that things will get worse and that, eventually, the disease will cross borders into the Ivory Coast and other nations, and possibly even pop up again in Nigeria which did an effective job of stopping an outbreak before it wandered into the teeming population of Lagos, a metropolitan area of some 21,000,000. From there, and assuming the disease continues to be as virulent as it is now, anything would seem to be possible.