The Ebola outbreak in West Africa eventually could exceed 20,000 cases, more than six times as many as are now known, the World Health Organization said Thursday.
A new plan released by the UN health agency to stop Ebola also assumes that the actual number of cases in many hard-hit areas may be two to four times higher than currently reported. If that’s accurate, it suggests there could be up to 12,000 cases already.
Currently, about half of the people infected with Ebola have died, so in the worst case scenario outlined by the WHO, the death toll could reach 10,000.
“This far outstrips any historic Ebola outbreak in numbers. The largest outbreak in the past was about 400 cases,” Dr Bruce Aylward, WHO’s assistant director-general for emergency operations, told reporters. He said the agency does not necessarily expect 20,000 cases, but a system must be put in place to handle a massive increase in the numbers.
The outbreak is posing a unique challenge, Aylward said, because there are multiple hotspots in several countries, including in densely populated urban areas. Previous outbreaks had happened in a single, remote area.
In new figures published Thursday, the agency said 1,552 people have died from the virus from among the 3,069 cases reported so far in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria. More than 40% of the cases have been identified in the last three weeks, the UN health agency said, adding that “the outbreak continues to accelerate.”