A recent report in Science magazine has made the scary prediction that as many as 100,000 people worldwide could be infected with the Ebola virus in the coming months. Northeastern Universty physicist Alessandro Vespignani hopes his prediction does not come to pass, however, based on the virus's spread, he predicts as many as 10,000 by the end of September alone. Other researchers have made similarly apocalyptic predictions. The World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted 20,000 cases. The outbreak began in the West African country of Guinea. It has since spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and most recently Senegal, which reported its first case on August 29th. To date, the disease has claimed over 1,900 lives.
ABC reports that at least one doctor who died may have contracted the illness without phyiscal contact with an infected person. A WHO spokesperson explained that the Senegaleze doctor had been doing surveillance work. "He wasn't in treatment centers normally," she said. "It's possible he went in there and wasn't properly covered, but that's why we've taken this unusual measure — to try to figure out what happened." The CDC and other health organizations have previously played down the risk, for example, of contracting airborne Ebola. However the agency's own fact sheet on precaution for the airline industry advises taking measures to prevent airborne spread of [mucous] "droplets expelled into the air."
There is reason for guarded optimism in the search for a cure however. A British health worker infected with Ebola while in Sierra Leone has made a full recovery following treatments with the experimental drug zMapp. Five of seven Ebola victims treated with the drug have recovered completely; two died. Experts qualify those successes with the warning that those who recovered may have recovered anyway. The disease is not always fatal. This most recent epidemic has had a survival rate of 47 percent. Past outbreaks have had survival rates closer to 10 percent, i.e. 90 percent fatality rate.