The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is going to get worse before it gets better, according to the top US public health official.
Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, said the epidemic would need an “unprecedented” response to bring it under control.
Health ministers from across West Africa are due to meet in Ghana to discuss the growing crisis.
The World Health Organization says the outbreak has killed 1,427 people.
The health body says it is the largest ever Ebola epidemic and has infected an estimated 2,615 people.
Liberia has been hardest-hit of the affected countries, with 624 deaths and 1,082 cases since the start of the year.
Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)
- Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
- Fatality rate can reach 90% – but current outbreak has mortality rate of about 55%
- Incubation period is two to 21 days
- There is no vaccine or cure
- Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
- Fruit bats, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus’s natural host
Mr Frieden met Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to discuss ways to fight the disease.
“The cases are increasing. I wish I did not have to say this, but it is going to get worse before it gets better,” he admitted.
“The world has never seen an outbreak of Ebola like this. Consequently, not only are the numbers large, but we know there are many more cases than has been diagnosed and reported,” he added.
He said there was a need for “urgent action” and called on Liberians “to come together” to stop misconceptions that have helped the outbreak spread.
Despite rumours to the contrary, the virus is not airborne and is spread by humans coming into contact with bodily fluids, such as sweat and blood, from those infected with virus.
Health ministers from the Economic Community of West African States will meet in Ghana’s capital Accra on Thursday to discuss the regional response to the crisis.
The extraordinary meeting comes after the African Development Bank warned that the outbreak is causing enormous economic damage to West Africa as foreign businesses quit the region.
Meanwhile, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has branded the international response “entirely inadequate”.
Brice de la Vigne, MSF operations director, said efforts to bring the outbreak under control had been far too chaotic.
“It is simply unacceptable that serious discussions are only starting now about international leadership and coordination,” he said.
“Self-protection is occupying the entire focus of states that have the expertise and resources to make a dramatic difference.”