More than 1.4 million people could be infected with Ebola by the end of January if action isn’t taken to stop the spread of the deadly virus in West Africa, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in a report released Tuesday.
The astonishing figure is the result of the CDC taking into account the under-reporting of Ebola cases.
According to the most recent numbers, the CDC also expects about 21,000 total cases of the disease will have occurred in Liberia and Sierra Leone by Sept. 30. Cases double about every 20 days in Liberia and every 40 days in Sierra Leone.
Ebola is a severe, often fatal disease in humans. One of the largest outbreaks since the virus was first identified in 1976 has affected thousands of people throughout West Africa since March, when 49 cases initially were detected in Guinea. More than 2,400 men, women and children are known to have died from the outbreak, and nearly 5,000 other people have been infected with the disease, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“It is still possible to reverse the epidemic, and we believe this can be done if a sufficient number of all patients are effectively isolated, either in Ebola treatment units or in other settings, such as community-based or home care. Once a sufficient number of Ebola patients are isolated, cases will decline very rapidly — almost as rapidly as they rose,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said Tuesday in a statement.
Last weekend, officials in Sierra Leone initiated a national lockdown to deal with the escalating crisis. Volunteers traveled from door-to-door to educate residents about the virus and to identify people who might pass the disease onto to others.
A week ago, President Barack Obama outlined his plans to combat Ebola by sending as many as 3,000 military and health personnel and $500 million to West Africa to avoid a humanitarian disaster. The major effort is the largest international response in the history of the CDC.
Four American workers have contracted the disease while working abroad, but the president reiterated that researchers and governments continue to agree the chances of an Ebola epidemic in the United States are “extremely low.” Two of the patients are fully recovered, while the other two individuals continue to receive domestic care.
The United Nations adopted a resolution last Thursday calling the outbreak “a threat to international peace and security.” World leaders are meeting this week to discuss the response.