Is Ebola Outbreak Entering New Phase?
The reports of declining rates of new Ebola cases in Liberia, announced by the World Health Organization on Oct. 29, fueled hopes that the outbreak response is working, but experts are cautioning that it is too soon to believe the epidemic has entered a new phase, with slower growth.
In early September, scientists had estimated that if the outbreak were to keep growing at its current rate, by the beginning of November, there would be nearly 9,900 cases in Liberia and more than 20,000 total cases in all three countries. Another report predicted an estimated 21,000 cases just in Liberia and Sierra Leone by Sept. 30.
The actual numbers are much better than those projections, with about 13,500 cases in all three countries combined. But the numbers are still too high, WHO officials warned, and the shift in the speed of the outbreak's spread could be temporary. It's possible that cases of the disease could increase in areas that are now experiencing steady numbers of cases, WHO officials said.
"If you look at the map, one of the concerning things is how much Ebola has penetrated into more rural areas of all of these countries," Schaffner said. In rural areas, populations are smaller, and people's homes are more scattered than in urban settings, but these places are also remote, far from the reach of public health officials. "There may even be cases occurring in small villages now that we don't know about," Schaffner said.