Guinea: "Unprecedented epidemic" of Ebola spreads across borders


The Ebola virus is spreading fast throughout the Republic of Guinea in West Africa with seventy-eight deaths confirmed, cases reported in the capital, Conakry, and the neighbouring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia. As t he disease has now broken out of the forested areas in the South-East of the country, health experts are speaking of a crisis.

The Ebola outbreak in the Republic of Guinea has broken out of the forested areas in the South-East of the country, has spread to the capital city, Conakry and there have been confirmed cases in neighbouring Liberia and two cases, and two deaths, in Sierra Leone (suspected cases). While the World Health Organization describes the scenario as "a rapidly changing situation", Doctors Without Borders have labeled the outbreak as "an unprecedented epidemic".

In the Republic of Guinea, where the disease appeared at the end of February/beginning of March, the number of suspected cases has increased to 122 (WHO figures) and 78 deaths, a Case Fatality Rate of over 62 per cent. Two of the suspected cases have been detected among healthcare workers. The first confirmed case was admitted for treatment on February 9.

National Emergency Committees have been set up in the Republic of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone together with Rapid Response Teams. Case isolation units have been placed in strategic areas and training has been provided to healthcare professionals.

The Ebola fever virus is named after the river Ebola in the Republic of Zaire (now DR Congo) where it was discovered in 1976. It is transmitted by contact with the skin, body fluids or meat of infected persons or animals. A common source of infection in some parts of Africa is when people place their hands on the deceased person at funerals.

The incubation period is between two to twenty-one days, after which the temperature rises sharply. The patient feels an intense tiredness, muscular pains, headaches, sore throat and then vomiting, diarrhea, a rash on the skin, dehydration, kidney and liver failure and massive internal and external hemorrhage. Patients suddenly start bleeding from the nose, ears, anus, mouth, penis or vagina, eyes or even skin.

Around 1,200 people have lost their lives from the Ebola virus since it was discovered in 1976. There have been serious outbreaks in the DR Congo/Zaire in 1976 (218 cases), 1995 (315) and 2007 (264); Sudan in 1976 (284), and Uganda in 2000 (425).

There is as yet no vaccine or treatment for this disease. In Europe, the Portuguese health authorities have alerted the medicinal services for possible entrance into the country from Guinea Bissau.

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey



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