New Ebola Projections Should Give You Pause

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have each released new studies of the current Ebola outbreak in Africa (H/T ScienceInsider).  The current totals related to the outbreak are over 5800 infected, with more than 2800 dead.  The current outbreak has affected more people than all of the previous reported outbreaks combined.

The new reports suggest things could well get a lot worse, making me think there’s a non-trivial chance this outbreak may not go away.  Of course, I am not a virologist.  But given how little attention the outbreak is getting outside of Africa, I’m not optimistic.

The WHO projections were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  I encourage you to read them in detail, but this language in the summary should stop you cold.

“These data indicate that without drastic improvements in control measures, the numbers of cases of and deaths from [Ebola virus disease] are expected to continue increasing from hundreds to thousands per week in the coming months.”

Control measures, including procedures for tracing the infected, controlling their contact with uninfected populations, and sufficient medical infrastructure, are not currently sufficient to handle the need, certainly while production in therapeutic medicines and vaccines is ramping up to address the outbreak.  The American response to the outbreak is good, but if not backed up by sufficient resources, it may not be enough.

The new CDC projections are more optimistic about the impact of U.S. and other nations’ support efforts.

“The U.S. government and international organizations recently announced commitments to support these measures. As these measures are rapidly implemented and sustained, the higher projections presented in this report become very unlikely.”

An important threshold in these projections appears to be having 70% of infected patients in Ebola treatment units.  Once that level is achieved and maintained, the models used suggest the epidemic will peak and eventually subside.  Delays in reaching that 70% mark mean a longer outbreak and a higher peak of infections and deaths.

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