Ebola Congress

A health-care worker dons protective gear before entering an Ebola treatment centre in the west of Freetown, Sierra Leone, last month. The U.S. government's worst-case scenario forecast for the Ebola epidemic won't happen, a U.S. health official said Wednesday. (Michael Duff/Associated Press)

The toll in the Ebola epidemic has risen to 5,420 deaths out of 15,145 cases in eight countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday, with transmission of the deadly virus still "intense and widespread" in Sierra Leone.

The figures, through Nov. 16, represent a jump of 243 deaths and 732 cases since those issued last Friday, and cases continue to be under-reported, the WHO said in its latest update.

Sierra Leone, a former British colony, confirmed 533 new cases in the week to Nov. 16, it said, accounting for much of the increase. It also reported 63 deaths since last Friday.

"Much of this was driven by intense transmission in the country's west and north," the WHO said.

The capital Freetown, which accounted for 168 new confirmed cases, and nearby Port Loko were particularly hard-hit.

A Cuban doctor infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone will be flown to Switzerland in the next 48 hours for hospitalization in Geneva, Swiss health authorities said on Wednesday. He is the first Cuban known to have contracted the disease.

The outbreaks in Guinea and Liberia currently appear to be driven by intense transmission in several key districts, the WHO said, citing N'Zerekore and Macenta in Guinea and Montserrado in Liberia, which includes the capital Monrovia.

In the three most affected countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — 1,159 beds are now operational in 18 Ebola treatment centres, or one-quarter per cent of beds planned, according to the UN agency. But only 13 per cent of Ebola patients in Sierra Leone are in isolation, its figures show.

"As this number increases, so does the capacity to isolate patients and prevent further transmission of the disease."

Authorities in Mali have reported six Ebola cases including five deaths, the WHO said. All contacts of its first case, a two-year-old girl who died in October, have survived the 21-day incubation period.

U.S worst-case projections won't come to pass

The remaining cases have been in Nigeria, Senegal, Spain and the United States.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said on Wednesday that her government has the upper hand in the fight against Ebola, but warned against complacency or any reduction in international support

WHO said that in Liberia, 80 probable cases were reported in the week to 15 November. "Nationally, on average, between 10 and 20 laboratory-confirmed cases are being reported each day."

Meanwhile, a U.S. health official said the U.S.  government's worst-case scenario forecast for the Ebola epidemic won't happen.

In September, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the number of people with Ebola could explode to as many as 1.4 million by mid-January without more help. But on Wednesday, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said, "We don't think projections from the summer will come to pass."

Frieden did not provide new estimates. He was speaking at a U.S. Senate hearing in Washington.

The CDC estimates were based on conditions in late August, before an international surge in medical aid. That work seems to have helped slow the epidemic in Liberia, the hardest-hit of the three countries.

With files from The Associated Press