The worst Ebola outbreak in history is only getting worse.
The World Health Organization said on Thursday that the outbreak that has ravaged West Africa could infect 20,000 people before it is over. With 1,552 deaths recorded so far, the virus is certain to claim more lives than all of the previous Ebola outbreaks combined.
At least 3,069 people are believed to have been infected in the current outbreak, but WHO officials believe that the real tally is far higher.
“In many areas of intense transmission the actual number of cases may be 2-4 fold higher than that currently reported,” the organization said. It added that “the aggregate case load of [Ebola] could exceed 20,000 over the course of this emergency.” The organization released a “roadmap” for stemming the rising tide of infections within six to nine months.
The new plan of action comes as the outbreak appears to be getting worse. Forty percent of infections included in the current tally occurred within the last three weeks, WHO said Thursday.
In Liberia, where international health organizations have said the outbreak could be spiraling out of control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden said the situation is far worse than he anticipated.
“It’s even worse than I’d feared,” Frieden told CNN. “Every day this outbreak goes on, it increases the risk for another export to another country.”
The country has experienced the brunt of the outbreak, and already weak health systems are buckling under the burden of over 1,300 cases. Violent clashes with residents and police broke out in Liberia’s West Point slum, fueled by fear of infection and rage that the entire community had been forcibly quarantined in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.
So far, cases related to the Zaire strain of Ebola have affected only Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and, to a lesser extent, Nigeria.
On Wednesday, Nigerian officials announced the first Ebola case outside of the populous city Lagos, were several patients who came into contact with a Liberian man, had become affected.
The new case involves a doctor in Port Harcourt. He and his wife have been quarantined, and 70 other people they may have come into contact with are also under observation according to the BBC.