The Ebola nightmare in West Africa reached a terrifying new level Friday when health officials in Guinea confirmed that the deadly virus has hit the country's teeming capital city of Conkary, home to between 2 million and 3 million people — about one out of four people in Guinea.
Officials also said Friday that the number of confirmed Ebola deaths is now reported at 70, but whether that total includes the 11 deaths in neighboring Sierra Leone that are thought to be linked to Ebola as well remained unclear.
That body county includes four health care workers who died after coming in contact with Ebola patients. The disease spreads by contact with body fluids of an infected person. Health care workers must remain covered head to toe in biohazard protective gear and one mistake or slight accident can prove deadly to those whose job is to help the afflicted — and stop the disease from spreading.
The latest official count of confirmed Ebola cases now stands at 111 in Guinea alone, with a mortality rate running at 64 percent, according to World Health Organization officials on the ground in the afflicted country.
The sudden appearance of eight Ebola infections in Conakry raises fears that the disease could spread quickly through the populous city, the economic and social heart of Guinea. Conakry is also an Atlantic Ocean port city — raising the chilling possibility that the virus could escape the African continent and head toward Europe and North America.
Overwhelmed health investigators in the resource-poor country must now figure out how the Ebola bug reached Conakry, which is about 185 miles away from the largely isolated forest region in Guinea's southeast where the Ebola outbreak started and has been centered, in the town of Gueckedou.
"Families have been decimated. When you go into rural areas, especially in Gueckedou, you see villages where there are lots of people infected," Mariano Lugli of the aide organization Doctors Without Borders said.
The Guinea Ebola outbreak is the first in West Africa since 1994 and has alarmed health workers with the speed of its lethal progress. Outbreaks are usually contained in the remote regions where they tend to occur, at least partly because the high death rate makes it difficult for the disease to move around.
Experts believe this outbreak is spreading faster than normal partly due to people touching and transporting corpses of Ebola victims.
The West Africa Ebola outbreak is believed to have started due to the local custom of eating bats — in soup or grilled — as a favorite delicacy.
"We discovered the vector agent of the Ebola virus is the bat," said Guinea Health Minister Remy Lamah, who has now banned the sale and consumption of the flying mammals which carry the Ebola virus but are immune to its effects. "We sent messages everywhere to announce the ban. They are very dangerous animals."