An outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus has killed at least 78 people in Guinea, including four health care workers, and at least three in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone are suspected to have died from the disease contracted in Guinea, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
"This geographical spread is worrisome because it will greatly complicate the tasks of the organizations working to control the epidemic," Doctors Without Borders Guinean coordinator Mariano Lugli told AFP, calling the outbreak an "unprecedented epidemic."
Ebola is a tropical virus that causes hemorrhagic fevers (bleeding inside and outside the body) and related ailments, including muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and organ failure. The virus is highly contagious and has no known treatment. The disease often spreads from wild animals to humans to other humans via contact with infected blood, feces, sweat, and contaminated corpses. Ebola has killed more than 1,600 people since 1976, when the disease first broke out in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). This latest fatal outbreak is the first in west Africa.
The Zaire strand of Ebola, which has been reported in Guinea, is the most deadly, killing 9 out of 10 of those stricken, according to the WHO. So far, Guinean authorities have reported 122 cases of Ebola, in addition to the 78 deaths.
Countries near and far are reacting to news of Ebola's spread. Senegal has temporarily closed its border with Guinea, according to the Associated Press, while other countries, like Lebanon, are increasing security at airports and other entry points. Health care workers have warned that Ebola's fast and fatal spread is particularly worrisome as Guinea and neighboring countries have poor health care systems, whose ministries have limited resources to respond to the outbreak.