Guinea and its neighbors are struggling to get ahead of a deadly Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 80 people, officials from the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) announced this week.
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Since January, there have been 122 suspected cases of Ebola, and the vast majority of those cases were in Guinea. Nearby Liberia has reported seven suspected and confirmed cases, including four deaths, according to Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization. Sierra Leone has reported five suspected cases. (The cases in Sierra Leone and Liberia involved people who had traveled to Guinea.)
Experts say they have identified up to 400 additional people who were in contact with the Ebola-stricken patients. "An Ebola outbreak is always something of concern because it's highly contagious and we don't have a vaccine," says Jasarevic, adding, "We need to find where these people are and check on them."
The incurable and highly deadly disease was able to spread quickly because it took experts about six weeks to identify the disease. Senegal recently closed its border with Guinea as a precaution.
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Guinea President Alpha Conde asked MSF this week to help his country stop the spread of Ebola. "My government and I are very worried about this epidemic," Conde said on March 30, adding, "I also call on people not to give in to panic or believe the rumors that are fuelling people's fears."
The disease has a 90% fatality rate and causes vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding. The last big outbreak—in Congo in 2007—left 187 dead, experts say.
"We are facing an epidemic of a magnitude never before seen in terms of the distribution of cases in the country," MSF official Mariano Lugli told Reuters (Samb, Reuters, 3/31; Bennett/Camara, Bloomberg, 4/1; Sifferlin, TIME, 3/31).
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