The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa eventually could exceed 20,000 cases, more than six times as many as are now known, the World Health Organisation said yesterday.
A new plan released by the UN health agency to stop Ebola also assumes that the actual number of cases in many hard-hit areas may be two to four times higher than reported. If accurate, that means up to 12,000 cases already.
Currently, about half of the people infected with Ebola have died, so in the worst case scenario outlined by the WHO, the death toll could reach 10,000.
"This far outstrips any historic Ebola outbreak in numbers. The largest outbreak in the past was about 400 cases," Bruce Aylward, WHO's assistant director-general for emergency operations, said.
Separately yesterday, the US National Institutes of Health announced it would start testing an experimental Ebola vaccine in humans next week. The vaccine was developed by the US government and GlaxoSmithKline and the preliminary trial will test the shot in healthy US adults in Maryland. At the same time, British experts will test the same vaccine in healthy people in the UK, Gambia and Mali.
Preliminary results to determine if the vaccine is safe could be available within months.
WHO said 1,552 people had died from among the 3,069 cases reported so far. More than 40 per cent of the cases had been identified in the last three weeks.