As Ebola screening begins at major airports in the United Kingdom, Ebola experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO) meeting in Geneva have revised their assessments of the death toll upward, and estimate there could be 50,000 new cases by December.
The deputy-director of the WHO, Dr. Bruce Aylward spoke at the press-conference today, and despite initial hope the news would be positive, he painted a fairly bleak picture of the Ebola outlook for the next few months. Speaking of the number of cases being reported, Dr. Aylward said over the past month there had been an average of 1,000 new cases a week reported, but the disease was spreading fast and the number of cases a week was set to rise.
Commenting on the unpredictable nature of the virus, and perhaps reflected the instability of West African health services, Dr. Aylward said by December there would be “between 5 and 10,000 cases a week, it could be higher, it could be lower”. At present rates of infection, it is possible there could be 50,000 new cases by December, which is a significant increase on the nearly 9,000 reported globally since the outbreak began in March.
The WHO also revised their estimate of the Ebola outbreak death-toll from around 4,000 to nearly 4,500, an increase that means the fatality rate is now running at 70 percent, significantly up on the less alarming rate of 50 percent before Dr. Aylward said the new figure firmly put Ebola in the bracket of “a high mortality disease” , and “a lot more people will die” if the global reaction to the outbreak doesn’t change significantly before December.
The scale and speed of the outbreak has concerned many in the West, who consider cheap air travel and relatively open borders with Africa to be a likely vector of entry for the virus, which would then pose a considerable risk to the often densely populated cities of Europe and America. The infection of health care professionals in Spain and the United States have shown even with first-world technology and training, Ebola can still prove fatal.
Despite a recent study by an American academic group that placed the UK highly on a list of Western nations likely to experience Ebola infection, the United Kingdom has so far resisted the virus and is today putting measures in place to keep it out, by introducing health screening checks at major airports, of the sort that have been in use in the United States since last week.
The first airport to get checks is global-hub Heathrow, which sees some 191,200 passengers arrive and depart a day. It will be followed by Gatwick and the Eurostar stations in London and Kent next week. Ebola screening was initially ruled out by the government because of the large volume of “low risk people” it would impact upon, but the position was soon dropped.
The Daily Telegraph reports the comments of Dr Ron Behrens from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who contends the governments change in heart was a reaction to public opinion, rather than scientific evidence. Another scientist said as Ebola initially shares symptoms with more common, and less harmful ailments the most likely people Ebola screening is likely to find are “unfortunate passengers with seasonal ailments who were unlucky enough to have recently been to Africa”.