With no new Ebola cases reported since Sunday, Guinea’s president Alpha Conde told reporters yesterday that the outbreak is over and the situation “well in hand.” According to the health ministry, the virus has killed 74 people so far in Guinea, with 121 confirmed cases since January. Other reports showed gave that figure at over 110 deaths. Over 130 people have died in the West African outbreak which spread from Guinea into Conakry, the Guinea capital, and neighboring Liberia. The president spoke to reporters during a visit to Geneva, home of the World Health Organization (WHO).
As there are 10 people with the disease in quarantine in Conakry and the southern city of Gueckedou, the death toll may still rise. The virus, according to researchers in the U.S., began in Guinea after contact with infected bats. It spread to health workers and hunters’ communities, in part because feverish patients were not immediately identified as suffering from Ebola.
The virus, which kills as many as 90 percent of its victims, still has Guinea on high alert. The disease can be transmitted through handling blood or body fluids of sick or dead animals. The Guinea population has been advised to stop eating bats and other “bush meat” in order to try to limit the outbreak, as the fruit bat is considered the natural host for Ebola. Non-human primates such as chimpanzees and gorillas have also been a source of human infection, but it is thought that they are not typical carriers, but were just infected the same way humans have been.
The disease also spreads through direct contact with sweat, feces, or blood, or when handling infected corpses without protection. Burial ceremonies have been a particular problem in the spread of the disease. U.S. researchers have verified that the outbreak in Guinea began after hunters contacted fruit bats caught for meat. Pig farms have also been a problem because of fruit bats gathering on those farms.
Ebola was first discovered in 1976, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is still one of the world’s most dangerous diseases, with no known cure or vaccine, and it spreads quickly. The incubation period from exposure to onset of symptoms is between two and 21 days. WHO describes the Guinea outbreak as one of the most challenging since the virus first emerged.
Ebola leads to hemorrhagic fever, whose symptoms include muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding. The only way to stop the spread of the virus is to isolate suspected cases in clean conditions and quarantine anyone who has contacted infected people. With the panic caused by the spread of the virus, some countries have initiated travel restrictions from Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.
In early April WHO said that it would take 2 to 4 months to contain the outbreak. As of mid-April about 400 people were still being observed as potential Ebola contacts. Possible exposures in Conakry, with a population of 2 million, were particularly difficult to trace. Guinea’s President Conde, in telling reporters that the outbreak is under control, said they “touch wood” that there will be no new cases.
By Beth A. Balen