Ebola death toll in West Africa could become 'unpalatable,' expert says


Growing concerns about a possible Ebola outbreak in Mali have at least one expert concerned many more people will die from the deadly disease than previously thought.

More than 5,100 people have died in West Africa from this year's outbreak across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Four have died from Ebola in recent weeks in Mali and authorities are scrambling to track down another 250 individuals for monitoring.

A further 14,413 are known to be infected, and the death toll among them is reaching 70 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This is the largest Ebola outbreak in history.

Those deaths are believed have been people infected by a Guinean imam who died in Mali of the disease, according to the WHO. But another outbreak in the country is raising fears that infections may be more widespread.

Many experts, including Jennifer Nuzzo, a leading infectious disease expert with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, sees the spread of Ebola to Mali as a potential "game changer" but is hopeful the outbreak can be quickly contained.

"I'd like to think it's not community-wide," Nuzzo told AOL News, "but it's not surprising to find more cases.

"Hopefully they can put a ring around them and extinguish the disease," she added.

Nuzzo contends there is reason to worry, but expressed hopes that efforts to contain the disease in Mali are as effective as in Nigeria.

A recent infection in Lagos, a teeming city of about six million people, was isolated and cured almost as quickly as a New York doctor who became in infected after returning from treating Ebola-stricken patients in Guinea.

"Everybody was really worried about Nigeria," said Nuzzo.

Experts have since instead been focusing their attention on Sierra Leone, where infections appeared to slow a bit before picking up again.

"Sierra Leone is doing far, far worse than it had in a long time," said Nuzzo.

The rising number of infections, combined with those already infected in Guinea and Liberia, mean it is going to be a long road to recovery, according to Nuzzo, who believes the death count could easily rise higher than previous prediction.

"I think its not going to be palatable," she said.

Previous Ebola outbreaks have been confined mostly to villages, but this one has hopped the borders of six countries, and Mali shares a 500-mile border with Guinea.

"The fact we're now seeing cases Mali, and Sierra Leone seems to be heating up, shows that we are in this for the long haul," said Nuzzo.

The desperation of people looking for a cure has led them down many a dark path, including the use of arsenic and snake venom, according to the Daily Mail.

Doctors Ortrud Lindemann, from Germany, and Richard Hiltner, from California, set off for Liberia recently to prove the two toxins would prove effective as homeopathic Ebola cures, according to the British newspaper.

Nuzzo slammed the idea, saying that there is virtually no way either could be effective treatments for the lethal disease.

"I don't know of any reason why those two things would work on a virus like Ebola," said Nuzzo. "It doesn't seem really feasible."

Both arsenic and snake venom are toxic to humans, even at small amounts of exposure, and U.S. authorities have worked for decades remove arsenic, which occurs naturally, from the nation's water supply.

"You're talking about arsenic ... a known poison, its pretty remarkable," said Nuzzo. "If the Ebola doesn't kill you, the arsenic will."

The only way to bring the deadly disease under control, according to Nuzzo, is to bring an Ebola vaccine to reality.

Clinical trials of a potential vaccine and other treatments still ongoing, it is not known how soon they can be approved by health officials.

The best way to at least slow the infection rate until then, says Nuzzo, is to not demonize with onerous mandatory quarantines the doctors returning from Africa after stints volunteering to help fight the disease.

"I worry that, what we are doing, it sounds like we're going to make it harder to stop the outbreak."

World News Update:  New Ebola Vaccine Clinical Trials and More
World News Update: New Ebola Vaccine Clinical Trials and More

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