Health authorities in the West African country of Guinea are facing an “unprecedented epidemic” of Ebola, an international aid group warned on Monday as the death toll from the disease that causes severe bleeding reached 78.
The Ebola outbreak is the first of its kind in the region in two decades. Authorities in neighbouring Senegal have closed the land border with Guinea. Liberia, another neighbouring country, has confirmed two cases, one of them fatal.
Senegalese music superstar Youssou N’Dour cancelled a weekend concert in Conakry, Guinea’s capital, because he feared the disease could spread in a large crowd gathered to hear him. Residents have steered clear of the hospital in the city of 2 million where, according to authorities, relatives of one victim are being held in isolation.
The emergence of Ebola in Guinea poses challenges never seen in previous outbreaks that involved “more remote locations as opposed to urban areas,” said Doctors Without Borders. Ebola has struck down people in Conakry as well as in Guinea’s rural south.
“The vast geographic spread of the Guinea outbreak is worrisome because it will greatly complicate the tasks of the organisations working to control the epidemic,” said Mariano Lugli, the group’s co-ordinator in Conakry.
The Ebola virus was first discovered in Congo – then known as Zaire – in 1976. There is no vaccine or specific treatment for it. The Zaire strain detected in Guinea can kill up to 90 per cent of its victims who suffer extensive internal and external bleeding.
Officials have not conclusively ruled how the virus showed up in Guinea, a West African nation far from Congo’s borders. However, bats that carry the virus are eaten as a local delicacy in Guinea.
The virus can be transmitted from human to human through direct contact with the blood or secretions of an infected person, or objects that have been contaminated with infected secretions. Bereaved relatives can also contract the virus when coming into contact with the victims’ bodies at communal funerals, health officials say.