The Ebola epidemic sweeping West Africa could infect up to 500,000 people by the end of January, according to a new estimate under development by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report is scheduled to be released next week, but work on it is still ongoing and projections could change, said a person who is familiar with its contents but was not authorized to speak because the report is not yet public.
The CDC projection assumes no additional aid by governments and relief agencies. But the United States this week launched a $750 million effort to establish treatment facilities with 1,700 beds in Liberia, the hardest hit country. And the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to create an emergency medical mission to respond to the outbreak, with an advance team in West Africa by the end of the month.
“CDC is working on a dynamic modeling tool that allows for recalculations of projected Ebola cases over time,” Barbara Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in an e-mail. “CDC expects to release this interactive tool and a description of its use soon.”
The CDC projection was first reported by Bloomberg News.
The World Health Organization said last month that the outbreak could reach 20,000 cases before it is brought under control. But infectious disease experts, aid officials and global health advocates said cases are increasing so rapidly that the total number is almost certain to be much higher, especially in the worst-affected countries of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
On Friday, the streets of Sierra Leone’s capital city of Freetown were uncharacteristically empty as the government began a controversial three-day lockdown in an effort to slow the spread of the deadly virus. Only law enforcement personnel, security officials and a handful of others deemed “essential” by the government are allowed on the streets during that time — and only with a government-issued pass, the Guardian reported.Researchers have been using different models in an attempt to predict the size of the outbreak, but the complexity and magnitude of the current epidemic poses additional challenges.