Guinea has received confirmation that a mysterious disease that has killed up to 59 people in the West African country and may have spread to Sierra Leone is the hemorrhagic fever Ebola, the Guinean government said on Saturday.
Cases of the disease — among the most virulent pathogens known to mankind, with a fatality rate of up to 90 percent — have been registered in three southeastern towns and in the capital of Conakry since Feb. 9. The deadly fever has never before been recorded in the country before.
“It is indeed Ebola fever. A laboratory in Lyon [France] confirmed the information,” government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara told reporters.
Six of the 12 samples sent for analysis tested positive for Ebola, said Sakoba Keita, a physician who heads the epidemics prevention division at the Guinean Ministry of Health.
He added that health officials had registered 80 suspected cases of Ebola, including 59 deaths.
“But you have to understand that not all the cases are necessarily due to Ebola fever. Some will have other origins, including a form of severe dysentery,” Keita said.
WHO officials said that cases showing similar symptoms, including fever, diarrhea, vomiting and bleeding, had also been reported in an area of Sierra Leone near the border with Guinea.
Sierra Leone’s chief medical officer, Brima Kargbo, said authorities were investigating the case of a 14-year-old boy who died in the town of Buedu in Kailahun District.
The boy had traveled to Guinea to attend the funeral of one of the outbreak’s earlier victims.
Kargbo said a medical team had been sent to Buedu to test those who came into contact with the boy before his death.
International medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on Saturday said it was reinforcing its medical and logistics teams in Guinea in response to the epidemic.
It is also flying in 33 tonnes of medicines and equipment and is setting up isolation units in the three affected towns in the West African nation.
“These structures are essential to prevent the spread of the disease, which is highly contagious,” Esther Sterk, the group’s tropical medicine adviser, said in a statement. “Specialized staff are providing care to patients showing signs of infection.”
Ebola is introduced into the human population via contact with infected animals including chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines, according to the WHO.
The disease, which is transmitted between humans through contact with organs, blood, secretions, or other bodily fluids, is most commonly found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, South Sudan and Gabon.