On March 25th the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported a rash of cases of Ebola in Guinea, the first such ever seen in west Africa. As of then there had been 86 suspected cases, and there were reports of suspected cases in the neighbouring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia as well. The death toll was 60.
On October 15th the WHO released its latest update. The outbreak has now seen 8,997 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola. All but 24 of those have been in Guinea (16% of the total), Sierra Leone (36%) and Liberia (47%). The current death toll is 4,493. These numbers are underestimates; many cases, in some places probably most, go unreported.
This all pales, though, compared with what is to come. The WHO fears it could see between 5,000 and 10,000 new cases reported a week by the beginning of December; that is, as many cases each week as have been seen in the entire outbreak up to this point. This is the terrifying thing about exponential growth as applied to disease: what is happening now, and what happens next, is always as bad as the sum of everything that has happened to date.
Exponential growth cannot continue indefinitely; there are always barriers. In the previous 20 major outbreaks of the disease since its discovery in 1976, all of which took place in and around the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the initial rapid spread quickly subsided. In the current outbreak, though, the limits have been pushed much further back; it has already claimed more victims than all the previous outbreaks put together.
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