The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa has now infected 1,603 people, of whom 887 have died, the World Health Organization said Monday in its latest bulletin on the crisis affecting Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

WHO spokespersons reiterate their concern regarding people's mistaken ideas about the disease and their refusal to give up ancestral customs like washing and embracing the dead bodies of their loved ones before burying them, which exposes them to infection from the virus.

The disease, which is transmitted by direct contact with the blood and bodily fluids of infected humans and animals, causes severe hemorrhages and can have a mortality rate as high as 90 percent.

The WHO has activated its Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network - made up of international agencies, governments, universities and other organizations - and has appealed to different types of specialists able to travel to the afflicted nations, to go there and help contain the outbreak.

WHO's director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan, and the presidents of the affected countries presented last week a $100-million response plan for combating the illness.

The plan calls for hundreds of additional people to help with the work of prevention and control, beyond the hundreds of humanitarian workers and the 120 WHO employees already engaged in the project.

This is not only the first time an Ebola epidemic has been identified and confirmed in West Africa - up to now they have always occurred in Central Africa - but it is also the most lethal in the history of the disease. EFE