The Ebola outbreak in West Africa continues to concern officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States, with progress in one country and increased outbreaks in others, particularly the capital of Guinea, CDC Director Tom Frieden said on Tuesday.
More than 7,500 people have now died from the Ebola virus, as the number of cases climbs towards 20,000, the World Health Organization said also on Tuesday.
Frieden, who recently returned from touring the three most affected countries, balanced optimism about progress in Liberia against the threat of the disease escalating in urban, highly mobile people, which makes it difficult to do the critical contact tracing needed to break the epidemic.
“Until each of the three countries has gotten to the last cluster, the last case, we are at risk,” Frieden said.
The US is continuing to monitor the 70 to 100 people a day who are traveling from the affected areas, and “I am now one of them,” he said. There are around 1,700 being monitored for the 21-day period. Eleven have been referred for further evaluation but none had Ebola, Frieden said.
“A lot of malaria, a lot of influenza,” he said, which also produce the fever that can indicate a person is developing Ebola.
Frieden praised the African Union for sending 500 responders to the affected areas. The CDC has 170 workers in each of the affected countries.
“The response is inspiring but the challenges are sobering,” he said.
In the Liberian capital of Monrovia, some people are bypassing the city’s treatment units in the mistaken belief that care is better out in the country, taking long taxi rides to reach them and potentially exposing other people while hampering the ability to do contact tracing, Frieden said. While Liberia “has the upper hand against the virus,” Frieden said, that could change.
“The outbreak continues to surge in Sierra Leone, and there has been a troubling spread in Guinea’s capitol city,” Frieden said. “We’ve got a long way to go, and this is no time to relax our grip on the response,” he added.
Between his first trip in August and September and this current trip, “there is a world of difference” in the epidemic and the response, he said. “Going forward, the challenge is to get to zero [cases]. Until they get to zero, we in the US will not be safe from other potential imported cases.”
TNS WITH REPORT FROM AFP