Tags: ebola | western | africa

Experts: Ebola Deaths Could Top 100,000 by Year's End

Experts: Ebola Deaths Could Top 100,000 by Year's End
A Liberian burial team wearing protective clothing retrieves the body of a 60-year-old Ebola victim from his home. (John Moore/Getty Images)

By    |   Friday, 12 September 2014 03:15 PM EDT

New Ebola cases in West Africa could explode to nearly 100,000 — even as close to 200,000 — by the end of the year, according to a new study.

If the virus were to continue at the current transmission rate of 1.4 to 1.7 people for every new person infected, West Africa could gain 77,181 to 277,124 more cases by the end of 2014, Gerardo Chowell-Puente, a researcher at Arizona State University, told the Arizona Republic on Friday.

"The above scenario is highly unlikely as the intervention response is definitely improving," he said.

But to illustrate how rapidly the epidemic is surging, The New York Times reported Friday that earlier predictions of 20,000 cases in a year had now worsened to projections of 20,000 a month. The fatality rate of Ebola is now somewhere between 70 and 90 percent, meaning most of those cases represent projected deaths.

Lone Simonsen, a research professor of global health at George Washington University, told the Times that estimates by the World Health Organization seemed conservative and the higher projections more reasonable.

“The final death toll may be far higher than any of those estimates unless an effective vaccine or therapy becomes available on a large scale or many more hospital beds are supplied,” she told the Times in an email.

His numbers envision a worst-case scenario, Chowell-Puente said. Each person infected with Ebola spreads the virus to as many as two others on average.

Chowell-Puente, a researcher at the university's School of Human Evolution and Social Change, conducted the study with Hiroshi Nishiura, a professor at the University of Tokyo. Their study was published on Thursday in Eurosurveillance, a European online scientific journal.

According to statistics from the World Health Organization cited by the Republic, 3,707 Ebola cases have been identified as of Aug. 31.

These include 2,106 confirmed cases, 1,003, probable and 598 suspected cases among Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Guinea and Senegal.

At least 2,288 people have died from the Ebola virus in the current outbreak, which officials believe started late last year, The Canadian Press reports.

The numbers are higher than the total of all known Ebola cases and Ebola deaths since the first known outbreak, in the Congo in Central Africa, in 1976.

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However, WHO officials consider the current numbers underestimates, because the outbreak is so widespread — and the situation so chaotic in so-called "hot zones" — that the agency cannot fully count the cases, the Canadian Press reports.

"There are currently hundreds of new Ebola virus disease cases reported each week," said scientists Peter Piot and Adam Kucharski in an editorial published with the study. "With the number of infections increasing exponentially, it could soon be thousands."

Piot, now director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was one of the scientists who first identified the Ebola virus in 1976.

"Fear and mistrust of health authorities has contributed to this problem, but increasingly it is also because isolation centers have reached capacity," the authors said. "As well as creating potential for further transmission, large numbers of untreated — and therefore unreported — cases make it difficult to measure the true spread of infection, and hence to plan and allocate resources."

Piot and Kucharski called the Ebola epidemic a worldwide crisis that demanded a global response.

"It is true that outbreaks of acute infections will generally decline once a large number of people have been infected because there are no longer enough susceptible individuals to sustain transmission," they said.

"But … given the vast populations in affected areas and the disease’s high fatality rate, this is clearly not an acceptable scenario."

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In his interview with the Arizona Republic, Nishiura said that the Ebola epidemic could best be stopped by isolating the infected individuals and then tracing each case back to its source.

"Our findings suggest that control of the Ebola epidemic that has taken so many lives could be attained by preventing more than half of the secondary transmissions for each primary case," Nishiura said.

In essence, if government officials and aid workers reduce the transmission rate to fewer than one individual, that would stop the epidemic spread of the virus, he said.

None of the efforts to contain the Ebola virus, however, will be successful until everything is centralized and coordinated through the United Nations, said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

The U.N., he said in an op-ed piece in The New York Times, "is the only international organization that can direct the immense amount of medical, public health and humanitarian aid that must come from many different countries and nongovernmental groups to smother this epidemic.

"Thus far, it has played at best a collaborating role — and with everyone in charge, no one is in charge."

Osterholm called for U.N. Security Council resolution giving the organization full responsibility for controlling the Ebola outbreak, "while respecting West African nations’ sovereignty as much as possible."

Besides securing aircraft and landing rights, the U.N. could tap the military support of the G-7 nations to "ensure supply chains for medical and infection-control products, as well as food and water for quarantined areas."

The U.N. can also provide the number of beds — estimated at as many as 1,500 by WHO — and can also work to provide preventative health care throughout other parts of Africa, Osterholm said.

"Because people are now too afraid of contracting Ebola to go to the hospital, very few are getting basic medical care," he said.

"This is about humanitarianism and self-interest," Osterholm concluded. "If we wait for vaccines and new drugs to arrive to end the Ebola epidemic, instead of taking major action now, we risk the disease’s reaching from West Africa to our own backyards."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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New Ebola cases in West Africa could explode to nearly 100,000 — even as close to 200,000 — by the end of the year, according to a new study.
ebola, western, africa
Friday, 12 September 2014 03:15 PM
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