The spread of Ebola, one of the most lethal
infectious diseases known, has spooked nations with weak health care
systems. In Guinea's southeast, home to all the confirmed cases,
residents are avoiding large gatherings and prices in some markets
have spiked as transporters avoid the area.
Health authorities in Liberia said they had now recorded eight
suspected cases of Ebola, mainly in people who crossed the border
from Guinea. Five of these had died but tests were still being
carried out to check if the cases were indeed Ebola.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said a total of 86 suspected
cases, including 59 deaths, had been reported in southeastern Guinea
near the border with Sierra Leone and Liberia. Laboratory tests have
confirmed 13 cases of Ebola in Guinea so far, the first outbreak of
the disease in West Africa.
"People are really frightened. They have seen people die in a matter
of just two or three days. They are constantly worried who is going
to be the next fatality," said Joseph Gbaka Sandounou, who manages
operations for aid agency Plan International in Guekedou.
"People have never experienced anything like this before. Rumors are
rife among communities who are trying to come up with their own
Samples taken from those who died in Liberia had been sent to
Conakry for testing, according to the Geneva-based WHO.
In Guinea, authorities have taken steps to quarantine suspected
cases in the districts of Guekedou, Macenta, Nzerekore and
In Sierra Leone, authorities set up a task force after the death of
a 14-year-old boy who had attended the funeral of a suspected Ebola
victim. Authorities have yet to confirm if the boy died of the
A Canadian who displayed Ebola-like symptoms after travelling to
West Africa had tested negative, the WHO said.
Ebola was discovered in 1976 in then-Zaire, now Democratic Republic
of Congo. Scientists have identified the outbreak in Guinea as the
virulent Zaire strain of the virus.
Because people who fall sick with it tend to vomit, have diarrhea
and suffer both internal and external bleeding, their bodies are
often "covered in virus", explained Peter Piot, one of the
co-discoverers of Ebola and now director of the London School of
Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
This means anyone in close contact with them — such as nurses,
doctors and carers — is at risk, he said.
The virus causes a raging fever, headaches, muscle pain,
conjunctivitis and weakness, before moving into more severe phases
of causing vomiting, diarrhea and hemorrhages.
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In the southeastern Guinea town of Macenta, prices — especially
for products like chlorine — have risen due to shortages, resident
Mamady Drame said.
People have also started avoiding shaking hands. "Can you imagine
that people are hesitant to even greet each other? That is a
shocking symbol in our culture," Drame said.
In the distant capital, where there have not yet been any confirmed
cases, some bank staff handling cash wore gloves and clients were
encouraged to wash their hands before entering.
Esther Sterk, a tropical diseases specialist at medical charity
Médecins Sans Frontières, said that while dangerous, Ebola remains
rare. Since its 1970s discovery, around 2,200 cases have been
recorded. Of those, 1,500 were fatal.
The last major outbreak of the Zaire strain was in 2007, when 187
people died in Congo, a fatality rate of 74 percent.
Scientists are not clear how the virus — which also infects animals
including bats, believed to be a major reservoir of the disease — crossed the continent from Sudan, Congo and Uganda.
With ethnic and family ties and trade making cross-border travel
common in the region, the outbreak in Guinea is causing concern in
nearby West African nations.
In Ivory Coast, a neighbor of Guinea's to the east, authorities said
there were no suspected cases but they advised residents to avoid
eating bushmeat — a carrier of the disease — and regularly wash
Mali said it was working with the WHO to put in place preventive
measures, including stronger border control health checks, and a
mechanism for coping with potential victims.
(Additional reporting by Umaru Fofana in Freetown, Kate Kelland in
London and Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva; writing by David Lewis
and Bate Felix; editing by Daniel Flynn and Janet Lawrence)
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