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WEDNESDAY, Sept. 3, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is outpacing efforts to control it, could pose a global threat and will cost at least $600 million to contain it, U.S. and global health officials warned Wednesday.
"This is not an African disease. This is a virus that is a threat to all humanity," Gayle Smith, special assistant to President Barack Obama and senior director at the U.S. National Security Council, told reporters during a news briefing, the Associated Press reported.
The highly virulent disease, which has claimed more than 1,900 lives so far, is spreading faster than health workers in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone can manage, Dr. Tom Kenyon, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Center for Global Health, said during the briefing.
The World Health Organization has predicted that as many as 20,000 people in West Africa could become infected within three months.
Kenyon, who recently visited West Africa, said the tools to stop the outbreak exist -- they just have to be put in place. He said more treatment centers are being opened and talks are under way with the African Union to send additional health workers to the continent, the AP reported.
"I think we're confident if we put these treatment units up, the health workers will come, but of course they have to be adequately trained and supervised and equipped with personal protective equipment," he said.
The big challenge right now is that the affected countries don't have the resources they need. Hospitals don't have enough beds, and there aren't enough ambulances, Keiji Fukuda, the World Health Organization's assistant director-general for health security, said at a separate news briefing, USA Today reported.
Fukuda said basic needs aren't being met in the hardest hit countries, the newspaper reported. "Bodies are not being taken away quickly enough," he said. "People are hungry in these communities. They don't know how they are going to get food."
The WHO is preparing an emergency meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, Thursday and Friday to discuss the crisis and needed responses.
Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said Ebola is primarily being spread in West Africa in two ways. The first way, among people caring for people with the disease, whether at home or in health-care settings and hospitals. The second way: unsafe burial practices.
Frieden said that since March the U.S. government has committed $20 million to combat the outbreak. In addition, the World Health Organization has asked for nations to commit $450 million to the fight, he said.
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama lent the weight of the Oval Office to focus attention on the outbreak. He urged people in West Africa to "know the facts" on how to protect themselves from the disease.
In a video address on the White House website, Obama said to residents of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, "Stopping this disease won't be easy but we know how to do it."
For starters, he noted that the Ebola virus can't be spread through the air or through casual contact -- "like sitting next to someone on a bus" -- the way some infectious diseases like the flu can be spread. "And you cannot get it from another person until they show symptoms of the disease, like fever," he added.
Obama urged people caring for patients to wear gloves and masks, and to avoid touching the body of someone who has died of the disease. "You can respect your traditions and honor your loved ones without risking the lives of the living," he said.
He explained that the virus is most often spread by coming into contact with the body fluids -- "sweat, saliva or blood" -- of someone who is ill or has died of the disease. Coming into contact with a contaminated item, such as a needle, can also spread the virus, he said.
Obama asked anyone who feels sick to get immediate medical help, saying nearly half of people can recover with swift treatment at a medical center.
Also Tuesday, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) said the first human tests of an experimental Ebola vaccine are set to start this week.
The vaccine, which the NIH is developing with drug company GlaxoSmithKline, has "performed extremely well" in primates, but hasn't yet been tested in people, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a statement, ABC News reported.
The phase 1 clinical trial with 20 people, ages 18 to 50, will begin at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md., and is meant to determine if the vaccine is safe and whether it triggers an immune response that would protect against Ebola.
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SOURCES: Sept. 3, 2014, news briefing, World Health Organization; Sept. 2, 2014, White House video with President Barack Obama; Sept. 2, 2014, news conference with Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Sept. 2, 2014, news release, Doctors Without Borders; Associated Press; USA Today; ABC News