Ebola outbreak 'worse than we'd feared,' CDC chief says on visit to West Africa

CDC Director Thomas Frieden, who is in Liberia to assess the Ebola outbreak, said today the contagion is “even worse than we’d feared.”

“This is an absolute emergency,” Frieden told WSB Radio in a phone interview this morning. “We have never seen anything on this scale with Ebola before. Unfortunately, this situation is going to get worse before it gets better. We’ve not yet turned the tide. The outbreak is ahead of our response.”

Frieden, who heads the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Liberia desperately needs to set up treatment centers across the country that can safely handle Ebola patients, giving the patients a chance to survive and also keeping them out of the community, where they can spread the virus to others.

“We’ve seen patients with Ebola with nowhere to go, an increasing number of corpses put onto the street,” Frieden said. “A whole system of picking up and cremating corpses has had to be developed.”

Cremation, which was not culturally acceptable in Liberia before the outbreak, is now widespread practice, the CDC chief said.

The death toll in Liberia and neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone now stands at 1,427, the World Health Organization said, with total infections of about 2,600 since the outbreak was identified in March.

The Associated Press reported today that two more cases of Ebola infection have been identified in Nigeria.

“The numbers just keep going up, and the need for a global emergency response is enormous,” Frieden told WSB.

Two American charity workers who were flown from Liberia to Atlanta for treatment of Ebola infection at Emory University Hospital were released last week and do not pose a threat to public health, their doctors said. Dr. Kent Brantly, the second of the two to be discharged, noted upon his release that his fight against the disease is at an end, but the real fight, in West Africa, is just beginning.

Frieden, in his WSB Radio interview, warned that failure to control the outbreak could be catastrophic.

“This isn’t just a risk to Liberia and West Africa,” Frieden said. “With this kind of transmission, every day it goes on, it increases the risk of spread to other countries in Africa, other countries in the region.

“The impact not just from Ebola but on the delivery of healthcare, on economies, on families and societies. It’s huge. It’s absolutely an emergency.”

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