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Ebola outbreak at 887 deaths: Could be far worse than reported, doctor says

A doctor working at the forefront of the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa says that the current epidemic could be far worse than what is being reported. CBS News reported Aug. 5 that a senior doctor who works for a leading medical organization in Liberia worries that many cases of Ebola are not being reported at all.

Speaking to CBS News on condition of confidentiality, the doctor says that one of the major problems contributing to the spread of the dreaded hemorrhagic fever, a disease with a 90 percent fatality history, is the inability to contain the virus in urban areas like the capital of Liberia, Monrovia, where the first two Americans known to have contracted the virus were infected. Dense populations make it easy for the virus to spread, especially during its contagious phase, a period that allows the pathogen to be transferred via bodily fluids.

The senior doctor also believes that the number of dead being repoted could be about only 50 percent of the actual total. According to the World Health Organization's last report, 887 people had died from the Ebola virus. He said that the under-reporting is most likely due to the distrust and fear with which the general populace views the government. People are afraid to report cases and take to hiding sick relatives and then burying the diseased -- and still-contagious -- corpses once they have passed away.

Another problem stems from ceremonial traditions in parts of West Africa which involve the touching of bodies before burial -- something that could potentially place unknown numbers of family members, not to mention those within the deceased's community, at great risk.

According to CNN, Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, said in a statement Friday the Ebola outbreak "is moving faster than our efforts to control it. This is an unprecedented outbreak accompanied by unprecedented challenges. And these challenges are extraordinary."

Chan noted that the virus plaguing West Africa is the deadliest of all the known Ebola strains.

"If the situation continues to deteriorate," she said, "the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries."

At present, all known cases -- a confirmed total of 1,603 -- of Ebola have presented in four countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Nigeria.

The current outbreak is the worst in history, far outpacing the death tolls of previous Ebola virus outbreaks, all of which have occurred in Africa.

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