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'Catastrophic' Ebola Toll in Liberia Is Predicted Unless Aid Scales Up

A 2014 photograph of a West African Ebola treatment center.
A 2014 photograph of a West African Ebola treatment center. (Image credit: CDC)

A substantial and quick scaling up of Ebola interventions is needed or else there will be a catastrophic number of cases and deaths from the disease in parts of Liberia, a new study suggests.

Researchers created a model to predict how many cases of Ebola, and deaths from the disease, would occur in Montserrado County, Liberia — which includes the capital Monrovia — under different scenarios.

The study took into account control efforts that were in place in Liberia as of late September, including the commitment from the United States to provide 17 new Ebola treatment centers to care for 1,700 patients.

But the researchers found that without additional efforts to control the disease, there could be up to 170,996 people sick with Ebola (including unreported cases), and 90,122 people in the area who die of the disease, by Dec. 15. [7 Devastating Infectious Diseases]

However, if efforts are scaled up starting Oct. 31 — with the addition of 4,800 hospital beds, along with a fivefold increase in the speed with which cases are detected, and the distribution of protective kits for those who are caring for Ebola patients at home — then as many as 97,940 of these cases could be prevented, the study found.

If those same interventions were delayed until Nov. 15, only about half as many cases would be prevented, the researchers found.

"Our predictions highlight the rapidly closing window of opportunity for controlling the outbreak, and averting a catastrophic toll of new Ebola cases and deaths in the coming months," said Alison Galvani, senior author of the report and a professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health.

"Further delays in the provision of effective interventions will continue to undermine the likelihood of averting EVD [Ebola virus disease] cases and deaths, suggesting we must scale interventions to the continuously escalating need expeditiously," the researchers wrote in the Oct. 24 issue of the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The researchers noted that their projections for Ebola cases under the "status quo" in September (i.e., with no additional efforts) may be slightly high, because the distribution of protective kits actually started in late September and early October, and this was not included in the researchers' predictions.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the largest in history, and the number of cases is increasing most rapidly in Liberia. As of Oct. 19, there were more than 9,900 reported cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, including 4,555 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Follow Rachael Rettner @RachaelRettner. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael has been with Live Science since 2010. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.