Four to six times more strains of the deadly Ebola virus exist in the current outbreak than in previous outbreaks, according to new disease maps from the World Health Organization (WHO).
The maps detail developments in the outbreak, which has infected 5,000 people, with most cases occurring in the Western African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The current outbreak is the largest since the virus began in West Africa.
“We have a very high, very unusual number of spike mutations in this outbreak,” said Dr. Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO’s Global Health Information System (GHIS), which focuses on global health statistics.
According to the GHIS 2015 Death and Disease Atlas, the virus has resulted in a total of 4,311 cases, including 2,358 deaths. The statistics from the map indicate more than four times more Ebola cases than occurred in the initial Ebola outbreak in 2000, which led to 774 infections and 329 deaths. The WHO issued a global alert and emergency earlier this year.
The map is an attempt to provide health care providers and risk managers with a comprehensive view of global Ebola levels and disease distribution, particularly as they relate to daily high-risk points, in a bid to speed up response.
Raviglione said high spikes in the number of virus samples collected during epidemics may signal that the virus is mutating quickly, in which case it is possible that it could develop into a super-contagious, “deadlyness sickness,” ravaging many different populations.
“The world is really racing against time,” Raviglione said.
The map includes diagnostic outcomes for the past 20 years and continues to show an increase in different African countries, Raviglione said. He noted that the map highlights the countries where response efforts have been most effective, especially in Guinea, where many infected people have received post-exposure prophylaxis, also known as the Zaire strain.
On Monday, the WHO told The Associated Press that emergency staff had begun planning to deploy 10 to 20 experts, who would cover conditions from experimental treatments to side effects, to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. It’s also developing a rapid response team for remote areas of the three West African countries.