Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has launched an emergency medical intervention following reports of the Ebola virus in southern Guinea, where an outbreak of hemorrhagic fever has left at least 34 people dead.
Guinea’s Ministry of Health, which says the outbreak has reached epidemic proportions, has registered 49 infections — including three suspected infections in the capital, Conakry — since it was first reported last month.
Guinean health ministry official Sakoba Keita told VOA Saturday that three of 12 virus samples sent to France have been confirmed as Ebola.
Amid growing concern that Guinea's hemorrhagic fever outbreak may have spread to neighboring Sierra Leone, the health ministry says World Health Organization officials are due to arrive on Sunday to conduct additional tests on site.
According to MSF's Dr. Esther Sterk, a tropical disease specialist, the Geneva-headquartered group currently has a 24-member medical team on the ground to treat suspected cases, and more staffers are scheduled to arrive in coming days.
“We have set up an isolation ward in Guéckédou," she said. "That’s one of the places where patients have been seen. In this isolation unit we are treating the patients, and also what we do, everybody who has been in contact with suspected cases or confirmed patients, we follow them up in the period of the incubation time, in period that these people can fall sick.”
Sterk said an additional isolation ward will be set up in Macenta, where there have also been suspected cases of the virus.
MSF said that more than 30 tons of medical supplies are now en route from Belgium and France to Guinea, including medications to ease the symptoms of the fever and equipment for isolation chambers.
This is the first time that such a virus has been identified in Guinea. This particular strain of the virus is initially contracted via contact with contaminated rodent feces and is then spread among humans through bodily fluids, such as sweat, saliva and blood.
Symptoms include high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and, in some cases, bleeding.
The WHO says Ebola is one of the most highly contagious viral diseases, resulting in death between 25 and 90 percent of cases. The virus cannot be prevented with a vaccine and is untreatable with medication.
“There is no curative treatment, but there is symptomatic treatment," said Sterk. "So if people have a fever, we give something to reduce the fever. People can have diarrhea and vomiting, so we give fluids, IV fluids. People have often a lot of pain, so we give painkillers. But for the containment of the outbreak, it’s very important that sick patients will be isolated and receive treatment in isolation ward.”
The Ministry of Health says it is has begun to educate the population about the symptoms of the virus and the importance of rapid treatment.