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Ebola outbreak expected to affect more than 20,000

The WHO estimates that the current Ebola epidemic could end up infecting more than 20,000 people in what is considered the worst outbreak in history.
Liberia Battles Spreading Ebola Epidemic
A Liberian health worker speaks with families in a classroom now used as an Ebola isolation ward on Aug. 15, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia.

The Ebola outbreak raging through West Africa could eventually infect more than 20,000 people, according to a new estimate from the World Health Organization.

Since the first case was reported in March, the virus has spread to four countries, and health officials have confirmed 3,069 cases. More than 1,550 people have died in what is now considered the worst Ebola outbreak in history. Also according to the agency’s report, “the outbreak continues to accelerate” with at least 40% of cases occurring in the past three weeks.

The new WHO estimate predicts a six-fold increase in the number of people affected by the disease. The agency also said that the actual number of infected people could be two- to four-times higher than current reports.

The UN health agency released the new numbers on fatalities and estimates, along with a “roadmap” for bringing the it under control. The plan’s aim, according to the statement, “is to stop ongoing Ebola transmission worldwide within 6-9 months.” This will necessitate a drastic increase in the international response from governments and worldwide health organizations that have been struggling to keep the epidemic from spreading.

The Ebola virus causes a high fever, nausea, internal bleeding, and the current outbreak is killing approximately 70% of those infected

Ebola has spread through Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and into Nigeria, but, in its plan, WHO said that other countries are likely to see cases of the disease. However, the organization added that, with proper planning and procedures, transmissions could be stopped relatively quickly. The three most heavily hit countries are "struggling to control the escalating outbreak against a backdrop of severely compromised health systems, significant deficits in capacity, and rampant fear," according to WHO.

The plan is expected to cost approximately $490 million, an amount that would come from national governments, the U.N., and other organizations. Health ministers from the affected countries met Wednesday in Accra, Ghana, to coordinate a response to the outbreak.

Also on Thursday, the National Institute of Health announced the first human clinical trial for an Ebola vaccine. Testing will take place in Bethesda, Maryland, at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center.