Workers from Doctors Without Borders unload emergency
medical supplies to deal with an Ebola outbreak in Conakry,
Guinea. REUTERS/Saliou Samb
West African nations scrambled on Tuesday to contain an
outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus suspected to have killed at
least 59 in Guinea, with people presenting symptoms of the
disease reported in neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Health authorities in Liberia said five out of six people who
crossed the border from Guinea to seek treatment and showed
symptoms of the fever had died.
Liberia's Chief Medical Officer Bernice Dahn said it was not
confirmed if the cases were Ebola, one of the most lethal
infectious diseases known to humans, and tests were being
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
"The patients we have seen thus far have similar symptoms to
those of the people in Guinea," Dahn said. "Those people had
the sickness and crossed over into Liberia's Lofa county for
treatment. Five died."
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 Kissidougou.
In neighbouring Sierra Leone, authorities set up a taskforce
after the death of a 14-year-old boy who had attended the
funeral of a suspected Ebola victim. Authorities are yet to
confirm if the boy died of the disease.
Sierra Leone was receiving help from the WHO and the U.S.
firm Metabiota, which investigates infectious disease
threats, said Chief Medical Officer Brima Kargbo.
Initial reports indicated a Canadian who showed Ebola-like
symptoms after travelling to West Africa had tested negative
for the virus, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters.
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
diarrhoea 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.
Esther Sterk, a tropical diseases specialist at the
international medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières, said
after an incubation period of between 2 and 21 days, the
virus causes a raging fever, headaches, muscle pain,
conjunctivitis and weakness, before moving into more severe
phases of causing vomiting, diarrhoea and hemorrhages.
"Patients may have heavy bleeding, including from the nose or
via their urine," she said in a briefing note on the disease.
She added, however, that while dangerous, Ebola remains rare.
Since the virus was discovered in 1976, 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
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.
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.
The WHO's Jasarevic said the main areas authorities should
focus on were infection control, scaling up laboratory
testing facilities and ensuring the best clinical management
of confirmed cases of infection.
"It's also about working with health workers so they know how
to treat patients properly so they don't fall victim
themselves," he said.