Authorities in Guinea scrambled on Friday to halt the spread of Ebola in the capital as the Guinean Ministry of Health identified another four suspected cases of a deadly virus outbreak that is estimated to have already killed 70 people.
Officials said the previous day that five cases of Ebola had been detected in Conakry, a city of more than 2 million people, about 300km from the previous infections in the West African country’s remote southeast. One elderly man died and four male relatives were quarantined.
Authorities in Guinea 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 interior.
In neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia, 11 more 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, 111 suspected cases have been detected, almost all in the remote forest region, centered on Gueckedou. The mortality rate from the infection is running at 64 percent, the 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,” Doctors Without Borders (MSF) emergency coordinator Mariano Lugli said.
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 centers for specialized care so they cannot infect other people,” he said.
In Gueckedou, MSF has constructed an isolation ward with 20 beds for patients, he added.
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, diarrhea and external bleeding that leaves the victim covered in the virus.
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.