WHO forecast for Ebola worsens as mortality rate rises to 70%

The World Health Organization reported sobering new figures Tuesday about the Ebola outbreak 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.”

He also expressed concern about coordination among the many medical and charitable groups that are now helping in West Africa.

“There’s a lot of actors on the ground, and an awful lot of them are working with Ebola for the first time,” he said. “The challenge right now is making sure all of that adds up to the kind of plan to stop this disease.”

In another cautionary note, Dr. Aylward warned that the ramped-up response could invite complacency and false hope, and that recent signs that Ebola was easing in some areas were misleading.

“Any sense that the great effort that’s been kicked off in the last couple of months is already starting to see an impact — that would be really, really premature,” he said.

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