Why Is Guinea’s Ebola Outbreak So Unusual?
Doctors Without Borders has called the current outbreak of the Ebola virus in Guinea “unprecedented” — not because of the number of victims (so far at least 78 have died) but because the disease has traveled to various parts of the country. The widespread infection (which includes the capital city of Conakry) is at least unusual, the World Health Organization agrees, and presents more challenges than usual to the medical team seeking to contain the virus.
To learn more, we spoke with Esther Sterk, a tropical medicine adviser for Doctors Without Borders. She’s been on the ground during past Ebola outbreaks in Africa.
How concerned are you about this outbreak?
We know from other outbreaks that epidemics can be stopped. And the principle is always the same: isolating suspected patients to prevent [them from giving] the disease to people around them. Also you follow the people who have been in close contact with patients with Ebola. So in the incubation period (which is 21 days), we follow them [tracking their contacts, and distributing information about prevention], because Ebola is [transmitted] by close contact with infected people. It’s [spread via] body fluids, like the blood and the urine and the saliva, the stools — all body fluids are contagious.
Do you think there will be many more cases?
Ebola is not airborne, so not contagious like, for example, the flu. Now we know more or less which families are infected, so we are following them. The expectation is that if the people in the community are better informed about the disease, we can detect all possible cases of Ebola and [quarantine] them.
How long do you think it will take to contain this Ebola outbreak?
We will manage to contain this outbreak in a short amount of time, but it’s difficult to say at the moment.
Photos: Top: The World Health Organization delivers disposable personal protection equipment to isolation ward at the China-Guinea Friendship Hospital in Conakry, Guinea. (WHO/T. Jasarevic)
Bottom: The recent Ebola outbreak started in southern Guinea, but has spread. Authorities have recorded 122 suspected cases so far and 78 deaths. (WHO)