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Ebola epidemic is still accelerating, WHO says

GENEVA — As the tally of deaths from the worst known outbreak of the Ebola virus continued its seemingly inexorable rise, the World Health Organization said the epidemic was still accelerating and could afflict more than 20,000 people — almost seven times the current number of reported cases — before it could be brought under control.

Thursday’s forecast was made as the WHO said the number of known cases and fatalities had risen. The organization also said that in areas of intense transmission “the actual number of cases may be two to four times higher than that currently reported.”

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According to the WHO’s latest figures, the death toll has risen by more than 100, to 1,552 out of 3,069 cases in four West African countries: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, which had indicated its outbreak was under control. While the disease was identified in March, “more than 40 percent of the total number of cases have occurred within the past 21 days,” the WHO said. “However, most cases are concentrated in only a few localities.”

The WHO presented a road map for affected countries and the international community that included strategies designed to deal with more than 20,000 cases. The plans are likely to cost nearly half a billion dollars over six months.

The goal is to stop transmission of the virus in the next eight to nine months, said Bruce Aylward, assistant director general of the health organization.

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With many centers for treating the disease too full to take new patients, classic treatment strategies could no longer cope, and it was necessary to find and expand other approaches, the WHO said.

The road map assumes a number of countries that are not currently affected could become so. It asserts any new transmissions could be stopped within eight weeks of the first case being identified. Aylward acknowledged such speedy containment has been achieved only in remote areas, not crowded urban centers.

Tom Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned the epidemic could get worse. He called for quicker international cooperation.

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