New Ebola cases declining in Liberia

By admin
30 October 2014

There is a glimmer of hope in Liberia as new cases of Ebola seem to be on the decline. The rate of new Ebola infections in the West African country appears to be decreasing and could represent a genuine trend, the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday, but the epidemic is far from over.

There is a glimmer of hope in Liberia as new cases of Ebola seem to be on the decline.

The rate of new Ebola infections in the West African country appears to be decreasing and could represent a genuine trend, the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday, but the epidemic is far from over.

The disease is still raging in parts of Sierra Leone and there is still a risk that the decline in Liberia won't be sustained, Dr Bruce Aylward, an assistant director-general for WHO, warned.

Several times during the outbreak officials have thought the disease's spread was slowing, only to surge again later. Officials have often blamed those false lulls on cases hidden because people were too afraid to seek treatment, wanted to bury their relatives themselves or simply weren't in contact with authorities.

But now there are some positive signs: There are empty beds in treatment centres in Liberia and the number of burials has declined. There may be as much as a 25 per cent week-on-week reduction in cases in Liberia, Dr Aylward said.

Throughout the Ebola outbreak, WHO has warned that its figures have been incomplete and the number of cases are likely vastly underreported. That is still a concern, Dr Aylward said, but the trend nonetheless appears to be real.

"The epidemic (in Liberia) may be slowing down," he said during a telephone press conference from Geneva. The slowdown could be attributable to a rapid increase in safe burials of Ebola victims, an uptick in the number of sick people being isolated and major public awareness campaigns on how to stop transmission.”

So far, more than 13 700 people have been sickened in the outbreak, which has hit Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone hardest. That figure, released yesterday by the WHO, includes cases from earlier in the outbreak that were recently found in patient databases but had never been reported.

In all, the disease is believed to have killed nearly 5 000 people.

Cautioning against reading too much into the decline in Liberia, Dr Aylward said that any let-up in the response could allow the disease to surge again.

"Am I hopeful? I'm terrified the information will be misinterpreted and people would start to think, oh great, this is under control," he said. "That's like saying your pet tiger is under control. There's a huge risk it wouldn't be sustained. It would be a huge mistake ... to think we can scale down the response."

Instead, experts should redouble their efforts to track all of the people with whom the sick have come into contact - a task that has been nearly impossible in many parts of the outbreak because of the sheer number of infections.

There's also tremendous work still to be done outside Liberia. The western areas of Sierra Leone, near the capital, have seen a particularly steady increase in cases lately.

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