West Africa on high alert after deadly Ebola outbreak kills 83 so far

 

Travel Correspondent

The deadliest strain of Ebola virus is spreading through West Africa. Confirmed cases in Guinea, where the outbreak began, now number 127, of whom 83 victims have died. Eight deaths have occurred in the capital, Conakry, with further cases in neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The variant responsible is the Zaire strain; this is the most aggressive form of Ebola, and kills nine out of 10 people who contract it.

Médecins Sans Frontières describes the epidemic as “unprecedented”. The medical charity’s project coordinator, Mariano Lugli, said: “We are facing an epidemic of a magnitude never before seen in terms of the distribution of cases in the country."

But the World Health Organisation has been more cautious in its statements, describing the outbreak as “relatively small”. A spokesman for the WHO, Gregory Hartl, said: “Ebola already causes enough concern and we need to be very careful about how we characterise something which is up until now an outbreak with sporadic cases."

Ebola was first identified in 1976, in near-simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter took place near the Ebola River, from which the name was taken.

The initial symptoms are fever, weakness, muscle pain, headache and a sore throat. These signs are swiftly followed by vomiting and diarrhoea, kidney and liver failure, and sometimes both internal and external bleeding.

The virus reaches the human population through contact with the blood, bodily fluids or organs of infected mammals, including fruit bats, chimpanzees, gorillas and monkeys. The WHO believes that primates do not constitute the reservoir of infection, but are “accidental hosts” – as are humans.

Ebola is transmitted between humans when the bodily fluids of infected people contaminate others, usually through broken skin or mucous membranes. Healthcare staff are particularly at risk. The illness has been known to spread after funerals in which mourners have had direct contact with the body of the victim.

Health Protection Scotland, which provides travel medicine advice on behalf of the NHS, said the risk of travellers becoming infected is “extremely low”, unless there has been direct contact with blood or bodily fluids of infected people or animals.

There is no vaccine against Ebola, though several are being tested. Treatment is limited to rehydration. The WHO says: “Samples from patients are an extreme biohazard risk; testing should be conducted under maximum biological containment conditions.”

The spread of the virus is contained by isolating the victims and those who have come into contact with them. This process is hampered by Ebola’s incubation period; it can take up to three weeks from infection to the onset of symptoms.

The worst outbreak was in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1995, in which 254 people died from a total of 315 infected – a mortality rate of 81 per cent. An outbreak in Uganda in 2000 infected more people – 425 – but more than 200 survived.

As the death toll in the present outbreak increases, the Foreign Office has warned travellers to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to “maintain strict standards of hygiene and avoid eating bushmeat”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Time Served Fabricator / Welders - Immediate Start

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...

Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Advisors

£14564 - £15311 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Adviso...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific