Experts say 20,000 people will have been infected with Ebola by early November unless control measures in West Africa are enhanced quickly.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and Imperial College researchers also reviewed the fatality rate of the current outbreak and found that by September 14 about 70.8% of Ebola infected patients had died.
This rate was consistent in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The latest World Health Organisation bulletin puts the deaths from Ebola in West Africa at 2,803 and the number infected at 5,843.
In the New England Journal of Medicine, public health epidemiologists and statisticians report on a review of data since the start of the outbreak in December 2013 to determine the scale of the epidemic, better understand the spread of the disease and what it will take to reverse the trend of infections.
“This study gave us some real insight into how this outbreak was working,” says Dr Christopher Dye, Director of Strategy for WHO.
“For example, we learned there is no significant difference among the different countries in the total numbers of male and female case patients.
“There may be differences in some communities, but when we actually looked at all the data combined, we saw it was really almost split 50-50.”
The present epidemic is exceptionally large because of a number of factors.
The health systems in all three countries were shattered after years of conflict and there was a significant shortage of health workers, leaving the system weaker than in other countries with Ebola outbreaks.
Certain characteristics of the population may have led to the rapid spread of the disease.
The populations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are highly interconnected with extensive cross-border traffic at the epicentre and
relatively easy connections by road between rural towns and villages and the densely populated capital cities.
“Forward projections suggest that unless control measures – including improvements in contract tracing, adequate case isolation, increased quality of care and capacity for clinical management, greater community engagement, and support from international partners – improve quickly these three countries will soon be reporting thousands of cases and deaths each week,” says Dye.
Experimental vaccines offer promise for the future but are unlikely to be available in the quantities needed to make a substantial difference for many months even if they are proved to be safe and effective.
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