UN agency urges vigilance amid Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia

A nurse comforts a patient who has been diagnosed to have the Ebola virus. Photo: WHO/Chris Black

28 March 2014 – With a total of 103 suspected and confirmed cases of Ebola in Guinea, including 66 deaths, the outbreak must be watched very carefully, a spokesperson for the United Nations health agency said today, noting that there is no treatment or cure for the frequently fatal disease.

“A lot of those cases still are only suspect cases,” Gregory Hartl of the World Health Organization (WHO) told reporters in Geneva. “Local health authorities will report any number of syndromic cases that resemble Ebola but turn out not to be. So we don’t expect all of these cases to end up confirmed in the end.

“However, on the other hand, there are probably other cases out there which we don’t know of yet. So this is an extremely fluid situation.”

Both Sierra Leone and Liberia have reported suspected cases and deaths consistent with Ebola to the UN health agency among people who had travelled to Guinea before the onset of symptoms. Mr. Hartl said the cases in Sierra Leone and Liberia that are known to WHO have an epidemiological link with Guinea. As of now, the agency does not recommend that any travel or trade restrictions be applied to any of the three countries.

The Ebola virus, which first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo, causes Ebola virus disease (EVD) in humans, with a case fatality rate of up to 90 per cent.

Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals. In Africa, infection has been documented through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.

Ebola then spreads in the community through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids.

“It’s not a disease which normally causes a large number of cases,” said Mr. Hartl. “It’s a disease which is very traumatic. It’s a disease which kills large percentages of the people it infects… there’s no treatment, there’s no medicine, there’s no vaccine. So you are very much at the whim of the disease and you can only just hope that your body is strong enough for its natural defences to fight off the disease.

“We need to watch this extremely carefully because there is no treatment, there is no cure, and the course of the disease is, more often than not, fatal.”


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