How Bad Will Ebola Get? Experts Are Still Guessing

Image: An Ebola burial team loads the body of a woman, 54, onto a truck for cremation in Liberia

John Moore / Getty Images

Nearly 9,000 people have been infected with Ebola, and half have died. But the World Health Organization says that's an underestimate. Experts have been trying to project just how bad the epidemic could get. But it’s a moving target.

WHO says about 1,000 people a week are being infected with Ebola and WHO’s Dr. Bruce Aylward says this could rise to between 5,000 and 10,000 a week. "The disease continues to expand geographically" in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, Aylward said this week.

How Fast Will Ebola Spread? 1:13

One scenario from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed as many as 1.4 million people infected by January. But CDC says that's just a rough guess. For one thing, no one is exactly sure how many people actually are infected.

In its latest report, WHO says a whole week of data is missing from Liberia, for instance. “These challenges remain particularly acute in Liberia, where there continues to be a mismatch between the relatively low numbers of new cases reported through official clinical surveillance systems on one hand, and reports from laboratory staff and first responders of large numbers of new cases on the other,” WHO said in a statement.

Many patients are being treated at home, dying in their own beds, or even creeping off to die in the forest, uncounted.

"It is clear, however, that the situation in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone is deteriorating, with widespread and persistent transmission of Ebola virus disease," WHO says.

And some experts even say Ebola may stick around for years in West Africa, becoming what’s known as endemic in the region. That’s never happened before, but Ebola’s never spread this badly before, either.

Before now, the worst outbreak was in Uganda in 2000, and it stopped at 425 people.