UN health agency: Ebola is accelerating in West Africa and could infect as many as 20,000

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is accelerating and could grow six times larger to infect as many as 20,000 people, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

GENEVA — The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is accelerating and could grow six times larger to infect as many as 20,000 people, the World Health Organization said Thursday. The U.N. health agency unveiled a new road map for containing the virus, and scientists are fast-tracking efforts to find a treatment or vaccine.

Ebola has menaced Africa for 40 years, but previously struck in remote villages and was contained fairly quickly. This time, it has spread to major cities in four countries, provoking unrest as whole neighbourhoods and towns have been sealed to the outside.

An experimental vaccine developed by the U.S. government and GlaxoSmithKline will be tested on humans starting next week, the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced Thursday. The NIH trial will use healthy adult volunteers in Maryland, and British experts will simultaneously test the same vaccine in healthy people in the U.K., Gambia and Mali.

Preliminary results on the vaccine’s safety — not its effectiveness — could be available in months.

Scientists also announced that they have mapped the genetic code of this strain of Ebola to better understand how it kills. In a study published Thursday in the journal Science, researchers traced an explosion of cases in this outbreak to a single funeral in Guinea in May.

They hope to use DNA mapping to track mutations that could become more worrisome the longer the outbreak lasts, and make a difference in the how doctors spot and fight the disease as vaccines are developed.

The outbreak has now killed at least 1,552 people among 3,069 reported cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, and the real caseload in urban areas could be two to four times higher. Meanwhile, an entirely separate Ebola outbreak has killed 13 of 42 people sickened in a remote area of Congo, in Central Africa, the agency said.

With about a 50 per cent mortality rate among those known to be infected, the overall death toll could reach 10,000 in the worst-case scenario.

“I think that’s completely unacceptable,” said the agency’s emergency operations director, Dr. Bruce Aylward.

The WHO’s new plan would cost $489 million to support 750 international health workers and 12,000 national ones. It aims to:

— stop Ebola transmission in affected countries within six to nine months

— prevent the spread of any new infections within eight weeks of a case being identified anywhere in the world

— and improve the public health responses to Ebola in any nation with major transportation hub or border that is shared with affected countries.

With the world’s support, medical workers hope to take “the heat out of this outbreak” within three months, Aylward said.

The U.N. agency’s announcement was immediately criticized by Doctors Without Borders, a medical charity running many of the treatment centres in West Africa.

“The WHO road map is welcome, but it should not give a false sense of hope. A plan needs to be acted upon. Huge questions remain,” the charity’s operations director, Bruce de le Vingne, said in a statement. “States with the capacity to help have the responsibility to mobilize resources to the affected countries, rather than watching from the sidelines with a naive hope that the situation will improve.”

Containment is key, but it has to be done carefully, in ways that don’t cause panic or hamper the response, the agency said.

The WHO has supported the quarantine of sick people, and said cordoning off entire neighbourhoods can be useful, as long as civil rights are respected. But it has called on airlines to resume flights to affected countries, since Ebola is unlikely to spread through air travel. Health checks at airports should provide sufficient protection while still enabling humanitarian workers to get in.

“Right now there is a super risk of the response effort being choked off, being restricted, because we simply cannot get enough seats on enough airplanes to get people in and out, and rotating, to get goods and supplies in and out and rotating,” Aylward said.

Ebola and the measures used to control it are making it harder for some of the world’s poorest people to feed themselves and seek medical care. Many thousands of people have been cut off from markets; food prices have soared and farmers are separated from their fields. People now fearing hospitals are going without treatment for other diseases, like malaria, which kills around 600,000 each year, 90 per cent of them in Africa.

The World Food Program says it needs $70 million immediately to help feed 1.3 million people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the coming months because control measures have threatened food supplies.

Nigerian authorities, meanwhile, confirmed their first fatality outside the commercial capital of Lagos, where a dying Liberian-American airline passenger infected others in late July. They said a man sickened after coming into contact with the passenger had evaded surveillance and infected a doctor in southern Nigeria, who later died.

Just Posted

Driver who backed into Red Deer pizzeria sentenced

David Andrew Amstutz sentenced for failing to remain at the crash scene

Shaw getting ready to raise prices for its main residential service, CEO says

CALGARY — Residential customers of Shaw Communications Inc. will likely see a… Continue reading

Inflation accelerates as higher airfares, vegetable prices offset cheaper gas

OTTAWA — Canada’s annual inflation rate accelerated to two per cent last… Continue reading

Alberta couple wants cash and charges dropped in meningitis death of their son

CALGARY — An Alberta couple facing a second trial in the meningitis… Continue reading

Moose Jaw wants to challenge Norway for tallest moose statue title

MOOSE JAW, Sask. — The City of Moose Jaw, Sask., is on… Continue reading

Fashion Fridays: Inspirational gym outfits

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Canadian tattoo artist inks Toronto skyline on Blue Jays pitcher Stroman

Marcus Stroman found a way to show his appreciation for Toronto when… Continue reading

Team World sweeps opening day against Team North America at Continental Cup

LAS VEGAS — Team North America has some serious ground to make… Continue reading

SXSW to screen ‘Run This Town,’ which includes Rob Ford character

TORONTO — A drama that features a portrayal of the late Toronto… Continue reading

Fans buy ‘Little House on the Prairie’ star’s memorabilia

GENOA TOWNSHIP, Mich. — More than 200 items belonging to “Little House… Continue reading

Paying down debt should be priority for low income workers, say experts

TORONTO — Investment planning can often be seen as a luxury for… Continue reading

Russian fighter jets collide over Sea of Japan crews eject

One plane crashed after its crew ejected safely, the other crew also ejected but they have not been found

Judge to deliver verdict in British sailor’s gang rape case

The alleged gang rape took place at a Halifax-area military base in 2015

B.C. minister fears money laundering involves billions of dollars, cites reports

The government had estimated that it was a $200-million a year operation, instead estimates now peg the problem at $1 billion annually

Most Read