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Ebola Spread Slows down in Liberia


WASHINGTON — The international response to West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, coupled with more effective action by local communities, has stopped the exponential spread of the disease in one of the hardest-hit countries, Liberia, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday.

In confirming what health officials and news organizations had reported for weeks, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the C.D.C. director, said that a previous worse-case projection by the agency that the Ebola epidemic could lead to 1.4 million cases by late January unless effective measures were taken to contain it was no longer applicable, crediting what he called “good progress” in Liberia.

“There’s been a substantial change in the trend,” Dr. Frieden said during a conference call with reporters. “There is no longer exponential increase, and in fact, there’s been a decrease” in the rate of infections in Liberia.

Health officials are less certain of the rate of infections in Guinea, another of the three most affected countries. Dr. Frieden said that in the third country, Sierra Leone, “both their epidemic and their response are several weeks behind Liberia.” He added that he hoped an increase in international aid to Sierra Leone, particularly from Britain, would help bring down the numbers there as well.

His comments came a day after the Pentagon said it was scaling back the size and number of Ebola treatment facilities that American troops are building in Liberia. Defense officials said that instead of building 17 units, as promised by President Obama, the military would build 10 treatment facilities, and that seven of them would have 50 beds each, rather than the 100 beds previously planned.

In addition, two other units that were to have been built by American troops will be built instead by an international aid group, administration officials said. Defense officials also said they were scaling back the number of American military personnel responding to the epidemic in West Africa, to 3,000 from 4,000.

Still, American defense and health officials cautioned that Ebola remained a significant health crisis in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and warned against letting up in the international aid effort there.

“There have been big changes in community behavior,” Dr. Frieden said. But he added that there were still, by some estimates, 1,000 to 2,000 new Ebola cases a week — the bulk of those now in Guinea and Sierra Leone. He said the effort to combat Ebola would continue to require “a massive undertaking” to chase each case, including finding people who have had contact with the virus.

The World Health Organisation’s latest update on Ebola, posted Wednesday on its website, said the number of confirmed, probable and suspected cases totaled 15,145, with 5,420 reported deaths, as of Sunday. Nearly all were in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with two deaths in the United States.

Though reported cases no longer appear to be increasing in Liberia or Guinea, the update said, “transmission remains intense and widespread in Sierra Leone,” with Freetown, the capital, remaining the worst-affected area.

The update also said that at least 584 health care workers, who are among those most at risk of contracting the disease, had been infected, and that 329 had died.

Cuban health officials reported Tuesday that a Cuban doctor, one of the 165 medical workers sent by Cuba to help battle the Ebola outbreak, had become the first in that group to be infected. The doctor, identified as Felix Baez, had been treating patients in Sierra Leone and was flown to Switzerland for treatment.

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