The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this morning that the Ebola outbreak is getting worse and “our window of opportunity to turn it around is closing.”
In its first situation report on the outbreak released Friday, the World Health Organization painted a grim picture as well, with 3,052 probable, confirmed and suspected cases in West Africa and 1,546 deaths.
“In the past six weeks, cases have continued to increase. Although the numbers of new cases reported in Guinea and Sierra Leone had been relatively stable, last week saw the highest weekly increase yet in all three affected countries,” states the WHO report. “This highlights the urgent need to reinforce control measures and increase capacity for case management.”
“We’ve seen outbreaks of Ebola before. This is the first epidemic spreading widely throughout country and many countries, and it’s spiraling out of control. It’s bad now, much more than the numbers show,” CDC director Thomas Frieden told CNN this morning. “It’s going to get even worse in the very near future and our window of opportunity to turn it around is closing. But it’s not yet closed. The crucial thing we need to do is to act fast. Action today is worth much more than action in a couple weeks or a month or two.”
“What we’re seeing is a spiraling of cases, really a hugely fast increasing cases that’s harder and harder to manage. The more we can get in there and tamp that down, the — the fewer cases we’ll have in the weeks and months to come. Right now, the epidemic is completely out of control,” he added.
Frieden stressed that it’s impossible to “seal off” the affected countries.
“The measures that have been taken that have it harder to fly in and fly out have made it harder to get help in, harder to control the epidemic, and therefore paradoxically have increased risks to other places,” he said.
The director said he’d spoken to a counterpart in Guinea who had tried to visit one of the badly affected rural areas, which doesn’t even have radio transmission. “And he was pelted with stones and almost harmed in trying to bring assistance.”
“The epicenter, the crucible, if you will, of this epidemic is this three-country area near what’s called the Mano River where the three countries all have a shared border, where the epidemic probably started and where it remains most intense. If we can tamp it down there by providing things like bed nets and soap and water, information to people and services, then we can begin addressing it at the source of the source,” Frieden added.
Stopping the outbreak there “is going to be the best way of protecting of ourselves” in the United States, he said.
“For doctors on the front lines and emergency departments here, they have to think about travel,” he said. “That if someone has been in West Africa in the past three weeks and has a fever, isolate and test for Ebola.”