With the number of cases in Sierra Leone and Liberia being underreported by a factor of 2.5, West Africa faces an even bigger crisis if immediate and drastic changes aren’t made in the response, the agency says.

A Liberian burial team wearing protective clothing retrieves the body of a 60-year-old Ebola victim from his home near Monrovia, Liberia, on Aug. 17, 2014. The epidemic has killed more than 1,000 people in four African countries, and Liberia has had more deaths than any other country.
JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES

The number of Ebola cases has been greatly underreported, and if something isn’t done soon, approximately 1.4 million individuals in West Africa could be infected by the deadly and unforgiving virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Washington Post reports.

According to the report, which was released Tuesday, the CDC developed a tool in an effort to help slow the current epidemic and estimate how many cases could occur in the future. The numbers in two of the most devastated countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia, have been underreported by a factor of 2.5, according to researchers, the Post notes. That means the number of cases likely to have occurred by the end of September could be as much as 21,000, with reported cases in the two countries doubling almost every 20 days.

“The findings in this report underscore the substantial public health challenges posed by the predicted number of future Ebola cases,” the researchers wrote in the report, according to the Post. “If conditions continue without scale-up of interventions, cases will continue to double approximately every 20 days, and the number of cases in West Africa will rapidly reach extraordinary levels.”

If no intervention has occurred, or there are no changes in the behavior of the community, such as improving burial practices, the researchers predict that by Jan. 20, 2015, Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could see approximately 550,000 to 1.4 million cases of Ebola.

And even those numbers could be on the low end, with researchers admitting that their theories possibly do not account for patients stricken by the disease who were not given treatment because of a lack of room in already crowded treatment centers.

However, CDC Director Tom Frieden did say that the estimates given in the report did not take into consideration the actions already taken or planned by the U.S. and others in the international community, the Post reports.

“We anticipate that these actions will slow the spread of the epidemic,” he said, according to a statement.

“It is still possible to reverse the epidemic, and we believe this can be done if a sufficient number of all patients are effectively isolated, either in Ebola Treatment Units or in other settings, such as community-based or home care,” Frieden added. “Once a sufficient number of Ebola patients are isolated, cases will decline very rapidly—almost as rapidly as they rose.”

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