WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The largest-ever outbreak of Ebola could drain billions of dollars from economies in West Africa by the end of next year if the epidemic is not contained, the World Bank said in an analysis on Wednesday.
The global development lender predicted that slow containment of the deadly virus in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone could lead to broader regional contagion, particularly through tourism and trade.
Under the worst-case scenario, Guinea's economic growth could be reduced by 2.3 percentage points next year while Sierra Leona's growth would be cut by 8.9 percentage points. Liberia would be hardest hit, with a reduction of 11.7 percentage points next year.
"Today's report underscores the huge potential costs of the epidemic if we don't ramp up our efforts to stop it now," World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said in a statement.
The World Health Organization said the disease requires a $1 billion response to limit its spread, and the United States announced on Tuesday it would send 3,000 troops to help tackle the Ebola outbreak.
The World Bank predicted the three West African countries first affected by the virus - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - would be hit hardest this year, as the outbreak saps $359 million from their economies in lost output.
Inflation and food prices were also starting to rise due to shortages, panic buying and speculation, the bank said.
Failure to contain the virus quickly could also affect business in neighboring countries, including Nigeria.
"The analysis finds that the largest economic effects of the crisis are not as a result of the direct costs ... but rather those resulting from aversion behavior driven by fear of contagion," the bank said in a statement.
The worst Ebola outbreak since the disease was identified in 1976 has already killed nearly 2,500 people, half of the number infected.
The outbreak of the highly contagious virus, which causes fever and uncontrolled bleeding, was first confirmed in the remote forests of southeastern Guinea in March.
(Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Jeffrey Benkoe)