'Unprecedented' Ebola Outbreak Sweeping Across Parts Of West Africa
April 1, 2014

‘Unprecedented’ Ebola Outbreak Sweeping Across Parts Of West Africa

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

An “unprecedented” outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) has spread throughout Guinea and beyond with more than a hundred patients confirmed to have the highly-infectious and equally as deadly disease.

The first reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) surfaced just over a week ago on March 23, after the Ministry of Health of Guinea reported to the UN health arm that the disease was rapidly spreading throughout the forested regions of south-eastern Guinea. As of that date, a total of 49 cases were reported including 29 deaths – a mortality rate of 59 percent.

The latest WHO report, released on March 30, stated there were 112 cases including 70 deaths – a mortality rate of 62.5 percent.

According to a report from Doctors Without Borders, the latest total is up to 122 cases including 78 deaths – a mortality rate of 63.9 percent. However, the WHO noted that two of the most recent Ebola deaths actually came from Sierra Leone and Liberia, indicating that the virus is spreading beyond Guinea’s borders.

Mariano Lugli, a Doctors Without Borders coordinator in Guinea, said that cases have been identified in three provinces in Guinea near the borders and in Conarky, the country’s coastal capital.

"We are facing an epidemic of a magnitude never before seen in terms of the distribution of cases in the country," Lugli said in a statement. Previous outbreaks "were much more geographically contained and involved more remote locations," he added.

"This geographical spread is worrisome, because it will greatly complicate the tasks of the organizations working to control the epidemic," Lugli said, according to a CNN report.

“If contracted, Ebola is one of the world’s most deadly diseases. It is a highly infectious virus that can kill up to 90 percent of the people who catch it, causing terror among infected communities,” reads a statement on the Doctors Without Borders website.

The disease spreads via the blood and shuts down the immune system, causing high fever, headache and muscle pain. It creates widespread panic because there is no cure and it is so highly fatal. The variant strain seen in Guinea is the so-called Zaire strain, which Lugli calls “the most aggressive and deadly.”

The WHO maintains that domestic prevention efforts are being supported for patients in the community, including training caregivers in safe practices and the community in proper and safe burials. Active contact tracing is being conducted with 130 contacts already being more closely observed for possible infection, as of March 30.

To date 24 clinical samples from Guinea have tested positive for ebolavirus. In addition, Liberia has reported cases of ebolavirus in persons who had traveled to Guinea.

The Ministry of Health of Liberia provided the WHO with updated details on the suspected and confirmed cases of EHF in Liberia, stating that as of March 29, seven clinical samples have been tested using Ebola Zaire virus primers by the mobile laboratory of the Institut Pasteur Dakar in Conarky. Two of these samples have tested positive for ebolavirus. The MOH said that two deaths were also reported, one of which tested negatively for ebolavirus.

Along with the Ministries of Health of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the WHO is implementing a coordinated response to the outbreak. WHO has alerted countries bordering Guinea about the outbreak and is working to heighten surveillance for illness consistent with viral hemorrhagic fever.

As well, the governments of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have activated their national emergency committees, prepared EHF response plans and carried out needed assessments. Rapid Response Teams have also been coordinated to investigate cases and trace contacts. Priority activities include active case finding, case isolation and management, contact tracing and raising awareness of EHF risk factors and prevention among healthcare workers, affected communities and the general public.

Despite the severity of the outbreak, WHO does not recommend any travel or trade restrictions be applied to Guinea, Sierra Leone or Liberia, based on the current information available.