As we head into September, the wrath of Ebola continues to devastate West Africa. Now over five months since this deadly virus infected its first victim, one wonders where we are in terms of combating the disease. Are infection rates beginning to plateau or are they continuing to rise? And if they are rising, how quickly? This week I decided to answer this question by plotting WHO Ebola data dating back to late March, when the virus first popped up in Guinea. What I found was startling. Not only are infection rates continuing to rise, but they are rising near exponentially. As are the death rates. These exponential curves are depicted in the graph below, with total cases depicted in blue and total deaths depicted in red. Using the equations of the respective lines, I also predicted the total cases and deaths each week through the end of September, depicted as light green points.
At present, the cumulative death toll from Ebola in West Africa stands at 1,552 people, with 3,069 cases. It has become pointless to compare these numbers to anything previously seen from Ebola as this outbreak is so far off the charts. What’s more, it is thought that these numbers are underreported as many patients are dying before ever reaching hospitals, or are refusing to visit doctors due to harsh quarantine measures and stigma. According to my graph above, if this current rate of infection continues, the death toll will reach 2,250 by mid-September, infecting nearly 4,200 people. By the first of October, the death toll will increase further to 3,200, with over 6,100 cases! One can only hope that this trend deviates from its exponential trajectory sooner rather than later.
As of August 26, the Democratic Republic of Congo confirmed an outbreak of Ebola. At the moment, however, this is not believed to share any connection with the outbreak taking place in West Africa. I will keep you posted. In the U.S., there have fortunately been no confirmed Ebola cases, besides the two American healthcare workers who were transported to the U.S. from Africa. Both of these patients, though, have made successful recoveries and no longer carry the virus.
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-Shahir Masri, MS