The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is “spiraling out of control,” warned Centres for Disease Control and Prevention director Thomas Frieden in a briefing on Tuesday. The international community “can control it, if we act now,” he said, but “the window of opportunity is closing.”
Frieden’s remarks came after his travel last week in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, the countries at the center of the largest Ebola outbreak in history.
The disease — which begins with flu-like symptoms and escalates into vomiting, diarrhoea, and often bleeding — has infected 3,069 people and killed 1,552 in the region this year, with a few cases in Nigeria and Senegal. (A separate, smaller outbreak is underway in the Democratic Republic of Congo.)
While the high number of cases and rapid spread in the current outbreak have prompted widespread concern, Frieden confirmed that there is still much to be done before the situation starts looking better. “As bad as it is now, it’s likely to get worse,” he said. “We’re likely to see a significant increase in cases.”
That prediction seemed to echo the World Health Organisation’s warning last week that Ebola, which is spread via the bodily fluids of a sickened person, could ultimately infect 20,000 people before it is brought under control. The virus, Frieden said, “is moving faster than anyone anticipated.”
One growing concern in the out-of-control outbreak is that the longer it continues, the higher the likelihood it will fan out to more countries. While the possibility of an outbreak in the United States is very low due to the standard protections taken in American hospitals, we could expect to see some isolated imported cases.
“We can stop worrying about it here when it’s controlled there,” Frieden said. “I could not overstate the need for an urgent response.”
The CDC director made a public call to doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers with experience in similar situations to offer up their services to Doctors Without Borders and other organisations on the ground fighting Ebola. The CDC has stepped up its response in the region, and USAID has committed $US20 million to help to contain the outbreak.
“We can control it if we act now,” Frieden said. “There’s nothing mysterious about what we need to do. The only real question is whether we’ll do it fast enough.”
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