Ebola Disease Caseload Could Reach 20,000: United Nations

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is accelerating and could grow six times larger to infect as many as 20,000 people, the World Health Organization said. The U.N. health agency unveiled a new road map for containing the virus, and scientists are fast-tracking efforts to find a treatment or vaccine.

Ebola has menaced Africa for 40 years, but previously struck in remote villages and was contained fairly quickly. This time, it has spread to major cities in four countries, provoking unrest as whole neighbourhoods and towns have been sealed to the outside.

An experimental vaccine developed by the U.S. government and GlaxoSmithKline will be tested on humans starting next week, the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced on Thursday. The NIH trial will use healthy adult volunteers in Maryland, and British experts will simultaneously test the same vaccine in healthy people in the U.K., Gambia and Mali.

Preliminary results on the vaccine’s safety and its effectiveness could be available in months. Scientists also announced that they have mapped the genetic code of this strain of Ebola to better understand how it kills. In a study published in the journal Science, researchers traced an explosion of cases in this outbreak to a single funeral in Guinea in May.

They hope to use the genetic mapping to track mutations that could become more worrisome the longer the outbreak lasts, and make a difference in how doctors spot and fight the disease as vaccines are developed.

The outbreak has now killed at least 1,552 people among 3,069 reported cases in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, and the real caseload in urban areas could be two to four times higher. Meanwhile, an entirely separate Ebola outbreak has killed 13 of 42 people sickened in a remote area of Congo, in Central Africa, the agency said.

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