The worst Ebola outbreak in history is only getting worse.
The World Health Organization said on Thursday that the outbreak that has ravaged West Africa could infect 20,000 people before it is over. With 1,552 deaths recorded so far, the virus is certain to claim more lives than all of the previous Ebola outbreaks combined.
At least 3,069 people are believed to have been infected in the current outbreak, but WHO officials believe that the real tally is far higher.
“[I]n many areas of intense transmission the actual number of cases may be 2-4 fold higher than that currently reported,” the organization said. It added that “the aggregate case load of [Ebola] could exceed 20,000 over the course of this emergency.”
The organization released a “roadmap” for stemming the rising tide of infections within six to nine months.
The new plan of action comes as the outbreak appears to be getting worse. Forty percent of infections included in the current tally occurred within the last three weeks, WHO said Thursday. And the virus has mutated during the outbreak, which could hinder diagnosis and treatment of the disease, according to scientists who genetically sequenced the virus in scores of victims.
U.S. government researchers, in collaboration with British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline, announced Thursday that they will begin human trials next week at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., for an experimental Ebola vaccine. Health officials said they want to rush the drug as quickly as possible to health workers and others at risk in Ebola-ravaged West Africa.