The worst Ebola outbreak in history, which is now spreading rapidly across West Africa, could reach Europe by the end of October, according to researchers. They say the arrival of the virus in the UK is a “lottery”.
The Ebola epidemic, which started in March, has infected at least 7,500 people and killed more than 3,400 of them in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal. The disease is spreading rapidly in urban areas and poor infection control was the reason for the first Ebola diagnosis out of Africa. Last week, the first case of Ebola reported out of the continent, was confirmed in a patient in the United States. Now scientists claim there’s a great chance that it will reach Europe by the end of the month.
Researchers, analyzing Ebola spread patterns and airline traffic data predict a 50/50 chance the virus could be imported to the United Kingdom by October 24. However, the risk for France is even bigger – around 75% chance it could arrive in the country by the end of the month. And there’s a 40% chance that Belgium will be exposed, too. According to study author Derek Gatherer, a virus expert at Britain’s Lancaster University, “It’s really a lottery”. Some will get lucky, and some just won’t.
The conclusion for these numbers was reached after reviewing the data on air traffic remaining at full capacity. Airlines are expected to limit the operations to the affected countries and if that happens (around 80% reduction of the flights), the risk for Europe will be lower, but still present. While the UK will be at 15% risk of getting Ebola, the chances for an outbreak in France will be around 25%.
Calculating the odds of Ebola spreading to Europe may not be an exact science and these are just predictions of the worst case scenario. But experts believe that if the disease continues to rage across Africa at the same pace, or indeed gets worse, as the World Health Organization and the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have predicted, it’s only a matter of time before the infection reaches Europe. According to estimations, the number of cases doubles every two weeks and some are expecting tens of thousands to be infected in coming several months. According to the CDC, the Ebola outbreak may affect up to 1.4 million people by the end of January, 2015.