An Ebola outbreak in the West African country of Guinea has already killed 59 people and authorities fear the deadly virus may have already spread to neighboring Sierra Leone, as health officials scramble to contain the fast-spreading disease which kills about 90 percent of the people who catch it.
While the disease whose full name is Ebola Hemmorhagic Fever has previously appeared in the African countries of Uganda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Gabon, the epidemic which began on February 9 is the first time the Ebola virus has been detected in Guinea.
“It is indeed Ebola fever. A laboratory in Lyon (France) confirmed the information,” an official in Guinea told the Reuters news agency.
The lethal virus has infected 80 people in the Guinea capital city of Conakry and three other towns, and 59 of those recorded Ebola cases have resulted in death, all in the past 41 days.
Guinea Health Ministry official Sakoba Keita said that 12 samples from patients were sent for testing. Six of them came back positive for the ebola virus.
The disease carries horrific and violent symptoms, including unstoppable bleeding both internally and externally, high fever, terrible muscular pain, violent vomiting and diarrhea.
Because Ebola is extremely contagious and can be passed by even an innocuous transmission of body fluids such as a sneeze, or even just touching an infected person, the best medical workers can do is isolate Ebola patients and treat them while themselves covered head-to-toe in protective biohazard suits.
Even people who have taken such precautions must disinfect themselves after coming in contact with an Ebola patient, and deceased victims must be buried immediately.
There is no vaccine against Ebola and no known cure.
“Several potential vaccines are being tested but it could be several years before any is available,” the World Health Organization says. “A new drug therapy has shown some promise in laboratory studies and is currently being evaluated.”
Outbreaks are believed to begin when humans come in contact with an infected animal. Bats are the most common carriers of Ebola, though monkeys and other primates can also carry the virus, of which there are currently five known strains.
The international medical nongovernmental organization Doctors Without Frontiers said it is stepping up efforts to contain the Guinea Ebola outbreak. The group has flown in about 33 metric tons of medical supplies, and is erecting structures where Ebola patients will be quarantined.
“These structures are essential to prevent the spread of the disease, which is highly contagious,” Dr. Esther Sterk of Doctors Without Borders “Specialized staff are providing care to patients showing signs of infection.”
The Guinea outbreak is the first Ebola epidemic ever recorded in West Africa.