A team of US scientists used mathematical modelling to predict infection rates in Liberia’s most populated area, Montserrado.
They calculated that without extra help, as many as 170,996 people could succumb to Ebola by December 15, representing 12% of an overall population of some 1.38 million.
In Montserrado alone, there could be 90,122 deaths by that time, many of them unreported.
Lead researcher Professor Alison Galvani, from the School of Public Health at Yale University, said: “Our predictions highlight the rapidly closing window of opportunity for controlling the outbreak and averting a catastrophic toll of new Ebola cases and deaths in the coming months.
“Although we might still be within the midst of what will ultimately be viewed as the early phase of the current outbreak, the possibility of averting calamitous repercussions from an initially delayed and insufficient response is quickly eroding.”
Much of the suffering could be averted if the international community stepped up control measures immediately, starting from the end of this month, according to the model.
This would require more Ebola treatment beds, a five-fold increase in the speed at which new cases are detected, and the allocation of protective kits to households of patients awaiting admission to clinics.
At best, just over 53,957 cases could be prevented if interventions are delayed until November 15, said the researchers, writing in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Around 9,000 Ebola cases and 4,500 deaths have been reported in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea since the outbreak began in December last year.
Health workers in the US, Spain and UK have been infected after being exposed to the virus in Africa. There are fears of the disease spreading from Africa to other parts of the world despite restrictions at air and sea ports.
Of the five African countries originally affected by the outbreak, Nigeria and Senegal have now been declared Ebola-free.
Co-author Professor Frederick Altice, also from Yale University, said: “The current global health strategy is woefully inadequate to stop the current volatile Ebola epidemic. At a minimum, capable logisticians are needed to construct a sufficient number of Ebola treatment units in order to avoid the unnecessary deaths of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people.”
The researchers estimated that the average number of infections caused by a single infected individual in Montserrado was 2.49.
Meanwhile, PM David Cameron is to urge fellow EU leaders to do more to tackle Ebola in west Africa, warning that failure to halt the killer disease there would risk future cases in Europe.
And he will also use a European Council leaders’ summit in Brussels to set his face against MEPs’ demands for more money for the EU budget.
The meeting looks set to be overshadowed by talks today among the 18 eurozone states over the latest crisis in the European single currency.