Ebola outbreak in Guinea 'limited geographically' - WHO

Health specialists work in an isolation ward for patients in southern Guinea. Photo: 1 April 2014 Guinea has so far found 127 suspected cases of Ebola since January

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The deadly Ebola outbreak in Guinea, West Africa, remains in a "limited geographic area", the World Health Organization has said.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said it was neither an epidemic, nor unprecedented.

But medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has said its spread makes it very difficult to control.

The WHO says 83 people in Guinea have died in suspected cases of Ebola, which is spread by close contact and kills between 25% and 90% of its victims.

It has now spread to neighbouring Liberia, as well as Guinea's capital, Conakry, which has a population of two million people.

Analysis

The traditional handshake is no longer a part of salutations in Guinea as people are really terrified of being infected with Ebola. "I no longer go out of the house just so that I do not have to shake people's hands," retired civil servant Mohamed Barry says.

The disease originated in the southern Forest Region where bats, a local delicacy, are thought be carriers of the virus. Their sale and consumption has been banned.

The situation is most worrying in Conakry, where about two million people live. All homes now have bowls or buckets filled with disinfectant at their entrance for both inhabitants and visitors to wash their hands.

The outbreak is also affecting business. Senegal has closed its land borders, leaving many stranded. "Our goods are about to perish," one businessman said.

Funeral corteges, too, are getting smaller because of fear of infection. "I don't go to any funeral now whether it is an Ebola-related death or not, or whether it is my relation that has died," teacher Mariam Mansare says.

Liberia has recorded a total of seven suspected and confirmed cases, including four deaths.

Outbreaks of Ebola occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests, the WHO says.

'Unprecedented'

"We need to be very careful about how we characterise something which is up to now an outbreak with sporadic cases," Mr Hartl told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland.

The WHO says the epidemiology of this outbreak is the same as previous outbreaks and remains localised, the BBC's Imogen Foulkes reports from Geneva.

The organisation adds that cases in Conakry and Liberia can be traced to the south-east of Guinea where the outbreak began.

On Monday, MSF described the outbreak as "unprecedented".

"We are facing an epidemic of a magnitude never before seen in terms of the distribution of cases," said Mariano Lugli, a co-ordinator in Guinea for the medical charity.

"This geographical spread is worrisome because it will greatly complicate the tasks of the organisations working to control the epidemic."

The outbreak of Ebola had centred around Guinea's remote south-eastern region of Nzerekore but it took the authorities six weeks to identify the disease.

Map of West Africa

Guinea has so far confirmed 122 cases of Ebola since January.

Liberia's Health Minister, Walter Gwenigale, on Monday warned people to stop having sex because the virus was spread via bodily fluids.

This was in addition to existing advice to stop shaking hands and kissing.

Sierra Leone has also reported five suspected cases, none of which have yet been confirmed, while Senegal, which also borders Guinea, has closed its land border.

Saudi Arabia suspended visas for Muslim pilgrims from Guinea and Liberia on Tuesday, in a sign of the growing unease about the outbreak

The "preventive" measure came at the request of the Saudi health ministry "due to the danger of the disease and its highly contagious" nature, state news agency SPA reported.

The tropical virus leads to haemorrhagic fever, causing muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in severe cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding.

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