Over the past month, the media has been bombarded with stories about how the deadly Ebola epidemic has ravaged countries in West Africa such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Since the epidemic first hit last winter, there have been more than 800 deaths and more than 1,300 people have been infected with the virus. The nonprofit group Doctors Without Borders took their volunteers out of the continent, fearing their health.
And while there have been reports that the National Institutes of Health are launching an Ebola vaccine clinical trial in the next month and working hard on effective treatments, a new CDC report tempers the optimism.
When it comes to the worst-case scenerio, the CDC has a grim prediction.
Liberia and Sierra Leone could see as many as 21,000 new infections by the end of this month and a whopping 1.4 million by January 20, 2015, if the disease cannot be controlled. It’s also important to note that this estimate takes into account the fact that many people who have Ebola don’t know it and that the infection rate is really 2.5 times higher than those being diagnosed, says the New York Times.
But there is some good news: The CDC believes that the best-case scenario could be that, by Jan. 20, the entire epidemic could be eradicated. But some big "ifs" are required in order for this to be a reality.
First, it would require that doctors treat 70 percent of those infected with Ebola, yet we are far from that right now. The CDC report found that only 18 percent of those with Ebola are in treatment in Liberia and only 40 percent in Sierra Leone.
Second, health officials would have to ensure that burying those who have died from Ebola would be done without touching the bodies, given that that’s another huge mode of transmission, especially among women who find themselves caretakers having to prepare the bodies.
However, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the CDC’s director, is somewhat optimistic about the turn that the Ebola epidemic could take given the increase in funding and awareness.
“My gut feeling is, the actions we’re taking now are going to make that worst-case scenario not come to pass,” he told the Times. “But it’s important to understand that it could happen.”
Discovered in 1976, Ebola is a rare virus that kills between 60-90 percent of those infected. The virus completely breaks down the immune system, killing the white blood cells in the bodies of those infected. Currently, there is no cure or vaccine for Ebola.
Stay up to date on the Ebola epidemic here.
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(Photo: Ahmed Jallanzo/EPA/Landov)