Ebola Cases Continue To Rise; Nigeria and Senegal Could Be Declared Ebola-Free in DaysOctober 15, 2014 in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, West Africa
New figures released by the World Health Organisation on Tuesday 14 October revealed that over 8,900 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) have been reported in seven affected countries: Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain and the United States of America. As of 14 October there have been 4,447 deaths. Health workers have been hit hard by the outbreak, with Doctors Without Borders reporting that sixteen of its employees have been infected with Ebola, in which nine of them have died. A top United Nations official warned this week that Ebola was winning the race as the WHO warned that within the next two months, West Africa could face up to 10,000 new Ebola cases per week if the outbreak is not contained.
Speaking at a news conference in Geneva, WHO assistant director-general Dr Bruce Aylward, disclosed that the death rate in the current outbreak had risen to 70 percent, from the previously estimated mortality rate of 50 percent. Acknowledging that Ebola was “a high mortality disease,” Dr Aylward noted that the UN health agency was still focused on getting six people into isolation and providing treatment to them as early as possible, adding that if the global response to the current Ebola outbreak is not stepped up in the coming sixty days, “a lot more people will die” and health workers will be stretched even further.
Experts in the field have indicated that the epidemic is doubling in size about every three weeks, with Dr Aylward indicating that over the last month, there have been about 1,000 new Ebola cases per week. This included confirmed, suspected and probable cases. Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone continue to the be the hardest-hit countries in the current epidemic, with WHO officials particularly concerned about the spread of Ebola in their capital cities – Conakry, Monrovia and Freetown – where people move freely across borders. While some regions in these countries have seen the number of Ebola cases either stabilize or fall, this does not mean that the regions are Ebola-free. Neighbouring countries, including Guinea-Bissau, the Ivory Coast and Mali are currently at a high risk of importing the disease.
The WHO also announced Tuesday that Nigeria and Senegal could be declared Ebola-free in the coming days after completing a 42-day period with no new cases. A statement released on Tuesday revealed “if the active surveillance for new cases that is currently in place continues, and no new cases are detected, WHO will declare the end of the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Senegal on Friday 17 October.” If no new cases are reported in Nigeria, then the WHO will declare it Ebola-free on 20 October.
Senegal had one patient who was confirmed to have EVD. He has since recovered and it does not appear that anyone else was infected with the deadly disease. In Nigeria, one traveller from Liberia triggered an outbreak in which eight people died, most of them health workers. The virus spread from the initial case in Lagos to Port Harcourt however it has since been contained with no new reported cases. The situation in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone however is far different as, according to the WHO, “new cases continue to explode in areas that looked like they were coming under control.” Adding “an unusual characteristic of this epidemic is a persistent cyclical pattern of gradual dips in the number of new cases, followed by sudden flare-ups.”
Officials at the WHO indicate that waiting for forty-two days from the time when the last person with high risk exposure has tested negative for the disease effectively provides sufficient confidence to declare that the outbreak is over. The 42-day period is twice the generally accepted maximum incubation period of the virus however some incubation periods are longer, with the WHO is indicating that in 95 percent of Ebola cases, the incubation period was between one and 21 days while in 98 percent, it was no longer than 42 days.