Guinea identified the Ebola virus yesterday as the source of a highly contagious epidemic raging through its southern forests, as the death toll rose to 34.
Experts in the west African nation had been unable to identify the disease, whose symptoms - diarrhoea, vomiting and bleeding - were first observed six weeks ago, but scientists in France confirmed it was Ebola, the Guinean health ministry said.
"We got the first results from Lyons [on Friday] which informed us of the presence of the Ebola virus as the cause of this outbreak," Sakoba Keita, the ministry's chief disease prevention officer, said. "Up to today we have identified 49 cases with 34 deaths in four prefectures."
No treatment or vaccine is available for Ebola, which kills up to 90 per cent of those who contract it, depending on the strain of the virus, according to the World Health Organisation.
The disease is transmitted by direct contact with blood, faeces or sweat, or by sexual contact or unprotected handling of contaminated corpses.
Medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said it would strengthen its team of 24 doctors, nurses, logisticians and experts in hygiene and sanitation already in Guinea.
The organisation has set up isolation units for suspected cases in the southern region of Nzerekore and is looking for people who may have had contact with the infected.
"These structures are essential to prevent the spread of the disease, which is highly contagious," said MSF tropical medicine adviser Esther Sterk said.
"Specialised staff are providing care to patients showing signs of infection."
MSF said it was sending around 33 tonnes of medicines and isolation, sanitation and protective equipment in two planes leaving from Belgium and France.
Ebola, one of the world's most virulent diseases, was first discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1976, which has suffered from eight outbreaks.