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March 31, 2014

Deadly Ebola Virus Sparks Fears in West Africa

by Jennifer Lazuta

West Africans are growing more apprehensive as the region's first-ever Ebola outbreak spreads.  Guinea's president and other leaders are urging people to remain calm, but people across the region say they are scared. 

The outbreak that began in Guinea’s southeastern forest region last month is causing widespread fear as the death toll rises and the outbreak spreads.

Leaders throughout the region have said that there is no reason to panic, but people say they are becoming increasingly worried.

"I’m afraid," admitted Steve Doe, a resident of Liberia's capital, Monrovia. "I mean the way it attacks one, you know, and the way it kills.  I’m afraid that the outbreak will be known in Liberia - or anywhere for that matter.  We are all human beings, so yes, I’m afraid."

Guinea's Ministry of Health says more than 70 people have died since the first suspected case was treated on February 9.  More than 125 people across three countries are now believed to have been affected by the highly contagious virus.

The health ministry confirmed last week that the virus had made its way to the capital, Conakry.  Aid organizations say this is a worrying development, as the city is densely populated and many people lack access to water and good sanitation.

In Liberia, at least two people have tested positive for Ebola.  Sierra Leone has also reported suspected cases of the virus.

On Saturday, Senegal closed the land border it shares with Guinea in the southeast of the country as a preventative measure.

Papa Konaté, who lives in Dakar, said he is scared that this may not be enough, adding that Ebola is a disease that can affect anyone. "So of course we are afraid," he said.  "We pass people on the streets and then we enter into our homes -- and you see, here in Dakar, there are many Guineans everywhere." Konaté says there are many Guineans who come and go, who leave and come back without a problem.  "It’s risky," he added.

According to health officials, the Ebola cases that were found in Liberia can be traced back to individuals who recently traveled to Guinea.

There is no vaccine against Ebola and no medication to cure the virus, which is spread through close contact with bodily fluids, such as sweat, blood or saliva, of an infected person or animal.

Doctors say the only way to contain the outbreak is to stop further infections.

Monrovian resident Ameago Sekou Kamara said he and his family have begun taking precautions to avoid contracting the Ebola virus.

"Ebola is a deadly disease...so we are following all the measures we have been given by the Ministry of Health and Social welfare," Kamara explained, "like preventing handshakes, stop eating bush meat and avoid coming to where there is information that there is an outbreak.  Even if a family member that is very close to you has it, you should not get associated with the person until you have medical advice."

West African authorities and aid organizations say they are taking all possible measures to contain the outbreak.  They urge people to act wisely and follow preventative measures.