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By Kate Kelland LONDON (Reuters) - West Africa's Ebola epidemic could worsen further before abating but new infections should start to decline in all affected countries by the end of this year, a leading specialist on the disease said on Wednesday. Peter Piot, one of the scientists who first identified the Ebola virus almost 40 years ago, said the outbreak was far from over, but said that "thanks to now massive efforts at all levels" what had been an exponential growth in numbers should soon begin to recede. The death toll in the worst Ebola epidemic on record has risen to 5,459 out of 15,351 cases identified in eight countries by November 18, latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO) showed. Almost all those cases are in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. "By the end of the year we should start seeing a real decline everywhere," Piot, who is now director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told a meeting of public health experts, non-governmental organisations and officials. But bringing the outbreak to a complete end will be a long and "bumpy" road, he added. "It will be controlled in one county or one district, but then pop up again in another," Piot said. "Let's not forget that this whole epidemic started with one person -- in other words, it will not be over until the last person with Ebola is dead or has recovered without infecting other people. That is the daunting task we face." Piot noted that both Nigeria and Senegal, which had cases of Ebola imported from the West Africa outbreak, had been able to swiftly contain its spread within their borders. He said these examples showed that beating Ebola was possible "if you act early and if you have the will to do it". The epidemic in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, he said, had been allowed to get out of control due to mistakes by local and national health officials but also to failures at the global level by United Nations bodies such as the WHO to recognise the scale of the threat and to respond accordingly "We must make sure that we can draw lessons from this for the future," Piot said. (Editing by Gareth Jones)