Guinea on Saturday raced to contain a deadly Ebola epidemic spreading from its southern forests to the capital, Conakry, as Senegal closed its border with the West African country.
The EU pledged 500,000 euros (US$690,000) to fight the contagion, while the Senegalese Ministry of the Interior said border crossings to Guinea would be closed “until further notice.”
The order affects crossings at Kolda and Kedougou in south Senegal heavily used by traders — in particular during a weekly market attended by thousands of people from neighboring countries.
Eight cases of Ebola have been confirmed in Conakry, the Guinean Ministry of Health said late on Friday, including one fatality.
Across the country, “the total number of suspected cases recorded from January to 28 March 2014 is 111 cases of hemorrhagic fever including 70 deaths ... or a fatality rate of 63 percent,” the ministry said in a statement.
Of the samples taken from 45 of the suspect cases, 19 tested positive for the virus. Most of the cases were recorded in southern Guinea, but the disease has spread to the capital since Wednesday last week.
Those infected have been isolated to prevent the virus spreading, while aid organizations have sent dozens of workers to help the poor West African country combat the outbreak of hemorrhagic fever.
The EU’s offer came after a plea for assistance from the Economic Community of West African States. The regional bloc said it was “deeply concerned” about the epidemic, which it said presented a “serious threat to the region.”
Ebola — described in some health publications as a “molecular shark” — leads to hemorrhagic fever, causing muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea and, in severe cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding.
No treatment or vaccine is available for the virus and the Zaire strain detected in Guinea — first observed 38 years ago in what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo — has a 90 percent mortality rate.
Sakoba Keita, who heads the health ministry’s prevention division, said it remains unclear how Ebola arrived in Guinea.
Tests on the other cases of hemorrhagic fever are still ongoing to determine their origin.
“We hope to get [the results] quickly, as these cases should be treated like Ebola, as they are also deadly,” he said.
The WHO said Liberia had reported eight suspected cases of Ebola fever, including six deaths, while Sierra Leone reported six, five of which were fatal.