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April 01, 2014

WHO: Ebola in Guinea an Outbreak, Not an Epidemic

by Lisa Schlein

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the Ebola outbreak in Guinea is very serious, but has not reached epidemic proportions.  The latest WHO figures show 80 people have died among the 122 suspected cases of Ebola in Guinea.

The organization is trying to calm a sense of panic in some areas about the seriousness of the Ebola outbreak in the West African country of Guinea.  It rejects claims by the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders that the outbreak of the disease is “unprecedented.”

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl says there have been larger outbreaks of Ebola recorded in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  He says the outbreak in Guinea is relatively small compared to the one in Uganda in 2000 and 2001, which infected more than 400 people.

Four cases of the disease have been reported in the Guinean capital, Conakry, but Hartl says it is not unusual to have cases in capital cities.  

“In Gabon in the 1990s, I believe there were cases in Libreville.  The same idea where someone basically was infected elsewhere and got him or herself to Libreville because of basically the medical facilities being better in the capital than elsewhere.  The source of infection is still quite localized in the southeast of Guinea.  So, for us, this fits the pattern of all previous Ebola outbreaks,” said Hartl.

The World Health Organization says the disease has not spread to other countries.  

It says the seven suspected cases of Ebola, including four deaths, in neighboring Liberia occurred among Liberians who traveled to Guinea and were infected there.  It notes laboratory tests of several suspected cases in Sierra Leone have all come back negative.

Ebola is spread through blood and other bodily fluids from an infected person.  It can also be transmitted by the handling of contaminated corpses.  Bats and primates are the original source of the infection.

Hartl says it is essential to stop the chains of transmission.

“It is a question of controlling infection in hospitals," he said.  "It is a question of controlling transmission among the people who might have been infected and do not know they have been infected yet and are not in hospitals.  Hence, as always, the two most important things are what we do in hospitals and how we trace contacts.”

Authorities in Senegal have closed the land border with Guinea to prevent the spread of Ebola into their country.  Hartl tells VOA that WHO does not recommend travel restrictions, which he says do not make sense.  

The incubation period for Ebola can be as long as 21 days.  The World Health Organization says the outbreak cannot be considered over until two incubation periods of 42 days have passed without a single transmission of the virus.