The isolation block of a hospital where Ebola victims are
being treated in Macenta, Guinea. REUTERS/Stringer
Authorities in Guinea are scrambling to halt the spread
of Ebola in the capital Conakry, after the death toll linked to
an outbreak of the deadly virus in the West African country hit
Officials said on Thursday (local time) that five cases of
Ebola had been detected in Conakry, a city of more than 2
million people, some 300 km from the previous infections in
the remote southeast. One elderly man died and four male
relatives were quarantined.
Authorities have launched an investigation into the movements
of the infected men in Conakry and steps are being taken to
deal with anyone who came into contact with them, the
government said in a statement.
The arrival of the disease in the capital, where hundreds of
thousands of people live tightly packed in rambling shanties,
could mark a sharp increase in the population at risk
compared with the sparsely populated villages of the forested
In neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia, a further 11 people
have died from suspected Ebola, stirring concern that one of
the most lethal infectious diseases known to man could be
spreading in an impoverished region ill-equipped to cope.
In Guinea, 103 suspected cases have been detected, almost all
in the remote forest region, centred on Gueckedou. The
mortality rate from the infection is running at 64 percent,
the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.
"Families have been decimated. When you go into rural areas,
especially in Gueckedou, you see villages where there are
lots of people infected," said Mariano Lugli, emergency
coordinator for Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Lugli said containing the outbreak was made difficult by the
itinerant nature of the local culture, where people often
travel to visit relatives and conduct commerce. "Our biggest
difficulty is isolating the cases and putting them in centres
for specialised care so they cannot infect other people," he
In Gueckedou, MSF has constructed an isolation ward with 20
beds for patients, he said. Television images from the scene
showed the ward, its inside coated with plastic wrapping, and
medical staff wearing protective facemasks and clothing.
There is no vaccine and no known cure for the disease, which
initially induces fever, headaches, muscle pain and weakness.
In its more acute phase, Ebola causes vomiting, diarrhoea and
external bleeding that leaves the victim covered in the
Traditional funerals, where bodies are washed by hand, have
been linked to the spread of the disease, prompting
authorities to ban them. The consumption of bat meat has also
been forbidden: experts believe the disease - more common in
Congo, Sudan and Uganda - is carried by bats, explaining how
it crossed the continent.
Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people since it was first
recorded in 1976 in what is now Democratic Republic of Congo,
but this is the first fatal outbreak in West Africa.
A mysterious fever was first detected in Guinea in early
February but it took authorities nearly six weeks to identify
it as Ebola, allowing the virus to spread. Guinea is
deploying a mobile laboratory to Gueckedou to speed up
identification of the disease and test samples from Sierra
Leone and Liberia.
West African foreign ministers this week said the outbreak
was a "threat to regional security". Joining a list of
countries stepping up controls, Senegal said on Friday it was
imposing sanitary checks at borders and on flights arriving
On the streets of Conakry, people remained calm but some
executives at international mining companies voiced concern.
"We have asked our employees to avoid physical contact,
especially in hospitals," said one executive with a mining
firm that has operations in the southeast.
Many offices placed antiseptic wash outside their doors for
people to wash their hands before entering. People also
avoided shaking hands - an important part of West African
"All that one can ask is that we do not give in to panic, and
to respect the basic rules of hygiene," said Abdourahmane
Conde, a telecommunications engineer.