World and Nation

Ebola could eventually afflict more than 20,000, WHO says

GENEVA — As the tally of deaths from the worst known outbreak of the Ebola virus continued its seemingly inexorable rise, the World Health Organization said Thursday that the epidemic was still accelerating and could afflict more than 20,000 people — almost seven times the current number of reported cases — before it could be brought under control.

The forecast was made as WHO reported the number of known cases and fatalities had risen once again. The organization also acknowledged that in areas of intense transmission “the actual number of cases may be two-to-four times higher than that currently reported.” The outbreak “continues to accelerate,” the organization said.

According to the latest figures released by WHO on Thursday, the death toll has risen by more than 100, to 1,552 out of 3,069 cases in four West African countries: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, which had previously indicated its outbreak was under control.

While the disease was first identified in March, “more than 40 percent of the total number of cases have occurred within the past 21 days,” WHO said. “However, most cases are concentrated in only a few localities.”

The assessment came as WHO presented a road map for affected countries and for the international community that included strategies designed to deal with more than 20,000 cases, Bruce Aylward, an assistant director general of the health organization, told reporters in Geneva. The plans are likely to cost nearly half a billion dollars over the next six months. The road map aims to stop transmission of the virus in the next eight to nine months, Aylward said, but he added: “We have to be realistic that there is uncertainty” about such targets.

With many centers for treating the disease now too full to take new patients, classic treatment strategies could no longer cope, and it was necessary to find and expand other complementary approaches to contain the spread of the disease, the organization said.