ATLANTA, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released an initial report Tuesday that estimates the Ebola outbreak could infect up to 1.5 million people in Liberia and Sierra Leone by early 2015.
"Extrapolating trends to January 20, 2015, without additional interventions or changes in community behavior (e.g., notable reductions in unsafe burial practices)," the CDC study projected "estimates that Liberia and Sierra Leone will have approximately 550,000 Ebola cases (1.4 million when corrected for under-reporting)."
CDC Director Tom Frieden warned Tuesday that "Without interventions, Ebola cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone will continue to double every 20 days."
But there is hope, says Frieden. According to the report's findings, "We can stop the Ebola epidemic by placing 70 percent of patients in settings that reduce the rate of transmission."
The report notes that those settings may include "medical care facilities or Ebola treatment units (ETUs) or, when these settings are at capacity, in a non-ETU setting such that there is a reduced risk of disease transmission (including safe burial when needed)."
The CDC study found that the timeliness of placing 70 percent of patients in such settings is key to curbing and ending the epidemic. In one "hypothetical scenario, every 30-day delay in increasing the percentage of patients in ETUs to 70 percent was associated with an approximate tripling in the number of daily cases that occur at the peak of the epidemic," although the CDC noted "the epidemic still eventually ends."
In order to curb the outbreak of Ebola, health workers are also employing a tool known as "contact tracing" that identifies everyone who has come in contact with a sick Ebola patient. According to the CDC, "it is the key to stopping the outbreak and saving lives."
The World Health Organization and Britain's Imperial College said in a New England Journal of Medicine article published Tuesday that Ebola cases in West Africa could reach 20,000 by early November and increase exponentially unless patients are isolated and entire communities are involved in halting the spread of the virus.