Why does the Ebola outbreak in West Africa keep getting worse?

More than half the people killed by the Ebola virus in West African countries have died in the past three weeks, the World Health Organization has said, raising the death toll from the deadly virus to at least 1,824 and potentially far higher.

The death toll has soared since the first cases were detected in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone on March 6, and has now surpassed 5,500.

“Ebola is a complex disease that can kill in one week,” WHO chief Margaret Chan said at a news conference.

“It’s very dangerous to ignore the risks of this outbreak, and it is also very dangerous for people to continue living with the virus and not take steps to prevent it from spreading.”

Health experts warn the virus could spread rapidly and pose an increased risk to the health of communities that remain largely immune to the disease.

WHO director-general Margaret Chan speaks during a news briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, March 8, 2020.

More than 50% of the 1,600 deaths attributed to the virus in Guinea are believed to be the result of a direct or indirect direct contact with an infected person, while a similar number is linked to other reasons, including lack of proper hygiene and exposure to contaminated water, the WHO said in a statement on Tuesday.

Chan said a further 50% to 60% of all deaths are due to secondary cases.

She urged governments to strengthen anti-e-virus measures, such as strengthening surveillance and controlling the movement of people with symptoms, and said more needed to be done to protect people with the disease and their families.

The outbreak is expected to continue to expand into the rest of West Africa, with the WHO warning of further outbreaks in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria.

The World Health Organisation has said it is prepared to deploy up to 1,500 health workers to West Africa.