Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says the Ebola epidemic is "spiraling out of control" and is likely to get worse. Frieden has just returned from West Africa, where he toured areas affected by the outbreak.
"There is still a window of opportunity to tamp it down, but that window is closing. We really have to act now," Frieden told CBS News. "Too many places are sealing off these countries. If we do that, paradoxically, it's going to reduce safety everywhere else. Whether we like it or not, we're all connected and it's in our interest to help them tamp this down and control it."
Later, in a news conference at the CDC, Frieden said that while the situation is dire, it is not hopeless. "The countries are engaged, they're willing to stop it," he said. "They need the world to work with them. This isn't just these countries' problems, it's a global problem."
While traveling through the region, Frieden said he spoke with a 22-year-old woman who was in her fourth year of college studying English, whose sister-in-law died from Ebola. "She held the 10- year old niece in her hands, that's how she got Ebola. She and many of her family members went to the treatment unit and she watched her brother die horribly next to her, feeling totally powerless, unable to help him, and terrified the same thing would happen to her."
As of Aug. 28, there have been 3,069 suspected and confirmed cases of the virus and 1,552 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Liberia has suffered the greatest number, with 1,378 suspected and confirmed cases and 694 deaths.
Last week, WHO released a report that estimates the outbreak will kill as many as 20,000 people before it is finally contained.
Though Frieden said he believes medical research will eventually advance enough to provide the right drug interventions, people cannot pin their hopes on this in the immediate future. Instead the medical communities in the U.S. and abroad must work to provide quality care and use effective public health measures to isolate and contain the outbreak. Epidemiologists have learned from slowing -- and stopping -- prior outbreaks hat public education is key, and it can also lessen the stigma experienced by West Africans who survive Ebola's grip.
Though there are some potential drug treatments and vaccines in the pipeline, none have been shown definitively to work on humans. This week, the National Institutes of Health will begin a Phase 1 human clinical trial of an Ebola vaccine, called VRC 207. The researchers will test the vaccine on a small number of healthy volunteers to see if it's safe and triggers an adequate immune system response.
Additionally, researchers studying ZMapp -- an experimental drug used to treat a number of health care workers stricken with the virus, including two American volunteers -- published promising results of a preclinical trial on monkeys that indicates the serum has a 100 percent cure rate in primates, though it's unclear how well it works on humans.
"The epidemic is going faster than we are, so we need to scale up our response," Frieden said. "We can hope for new tools and maybe they'll come, but we can't count on them."