Ebola likely to last until end of 2015

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West Africa’s Ebola crisis is likely to last until the end of 2015, says a leading researcher who helped to discover the virus.

Peter Piot, who has just returned from Sierra Leone, said he was encouraged by progress there and by the promise of new anti-viral therapies.

“We need to be ready for a long effort, a sustained effort [for] probably the rest of 2015,” Piot, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) body handling the crisis, told the BBC after returning from Sierra Leone.

Belgian Piot, who was one of a group of scientists in Zaire who discovered Ebola in 1976, said he was impressed by the progress he had seen in Sierra Leone, where mortality rates have fallen to as low as one in three.

“You don’t see any longer the scenes where people are dying in the streets,” he said.

He also said he was encouraged that thanks to simple treatments such as intravenous fluids and antibiotics, mortality rates had fallen.

But although the outbreak has peaked in Liberia and probably will do so in Sierra Leone, too, in the coming few weeks, the epidemic could have a “very long tail and a bumpy tail.”

“The Ebola epidemic is still very much there,” he said. “People are still dying, new cases are being detected.”

Piot also said vaccines would take time to develop.

The current Ebola outbreak, the deadliest to date, has so far killed more than 7,300 people.

Most of the victims have been in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.