The deadly Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa is spreading from remote areas into the densely populated Guinea capital, Conakry. The new developments are stirring fears of an unprecedented epidemic among the people, the government, and health officials. To date, there have been 134 cases, according to the World Health Organization.
Over the past month, the virus has moved from the border regions near Liberia and Sierra Leone into Conakry, a city of 2 million people. So far, the hemorrhagic fever disease has killed 87 people, including four in the capital. There are 13 cases reported in the city, raising fears. However, the 13 cases are related family members and medical personnel who treated one patient, and all are being kept isolated in the hope that no one else in the city will be infected.
Neighboring countries are worried about the virus spreading. In adjacent Liberia, there have been two confirmed cases and a few more reported. Senegal has closed its border with Guinea.
Reports are that marketplaces in Conakry are still crowded and traffic jams still common. However, health workers are going into the crowded markets with megaphones to warn people about the disease and to distribute chlorine soap. People are avoiding shaking hands and stores have reportedly sold out of hand sanitizer. At stores, clerks are wearing gloves.
Worries about the disease spreading into the populated capital are strong, because the Ebola virus is an extremely deadly illness with no known cure. It first appeared in 1976 in Sudan and by the Ebola River (hence the name) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The fatality rate in previous outbreaks has gone as high as 90 percent of those who contracted it. Most of the outbreaks, which have killed hundreds, have been in rural areas of Central and Eastern Africa. The only previous outbreak that reached a city was in Uganda in 2012, where some cases were recorded in Kampala, the capital.
Ebola is believed to spread to humans through close contact with the blood, organs, or other bodily fluids of infected animals. It then spreads among humans through direct contact with the blood, organs, or bodily fluids of infected people or things contaminated with such fluids. In some cases, burial ceremonies in which mourners come into contact with the body of the deceased have spread Ebola. The rare men who have recovered from the virus can still transmit it through their semen for several weeks. In addition, health care workers have been infected in the past while treating patients with suspected Ebola. Now, medical personnel often wear hazmat suits when dealing with a suspected outbreak.
Death from Ebola is painful and gruesome. It is referred to as a hemorrhagic fever because people literally bleed out through vomit, diarrhea, and profuse internal bleeding.
Several public health organizations and volunteer groups are on the scene helping to care for the stricken, fight the spread, and research the virus to develop a cure. The World Health Organization is monitoring about 400 people in Guinea for 21 days, hoping to break the chain of transmission. The charity Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) is also helping to care for patients. In addition, a team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention arrived in Conakry on Monday, at the request of Guinea’s health ministry and the World Health Organization. The hope is that health officials will be able to stop the deadly Ebola virus from spreading further into the region and infecting others in the populated capital.
By Dyanne Weiss