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WHO says ebola outbreak may infect 20,000 before it can be stopped

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Stopping the disease in West Africa will cost $490 million

Sergey Uryadnikov / Shutterstock.com

The World Health Organization says a total of more than 20,000 people may be infected with ebola in West Africa before the virus is contained. The United Nations agency released a new roadmap for dealing with the outbreak today, designed to respond to the "urgent need to dramatically scale up the international response" to the rapid proliferation of the disease. The document says the ebola virus is spreading much faster than the WHO had anticipated, and would cost at least $490 million to control.

This outbreak has killed more than 1,550 people

That figure has increased from the $430 million specified in a draft of the road map seen by Bloomberg News earlier this week. The cost has risen partly because the rate of infection is increasing: the WHO says more than 40 percent of ebola infections in West Africa occurred in the last 21 days, and in some places, the number of infected people may be two to four times higher than reported. The WHO is attempting to halt the spread of the disease in six to nine months, but it has been criticized by humanitarian NGO Doctors Without Borders for lacking leadership and for being too slow to respond to the crisis.

Ebola has already killed more than 1,550 people in the West African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and most recently, Nigeria. The WHO has declared the outbreak — which has infected more than 3,000 so far — a global health emergency. Pharmaceutical companies are fast-tracking experimental ebola treatments in response to the crisis, but for now, the virus has no specific cure. Finding a treatment for ebola before it infects tens of thousands may be difficult, as scientists reported yesterday that the disease has mutated repeatedly during its most deadly outbreak in history.