Over 100 people in Guinea and Liberia have died in West Africa's Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, calling it "one of the most challenging Ebola outbreaks that we have ever faced."
In Guinea, there have been 157 suspected cases, 67 of which have been confirmed, and 101 deaths. In neighboring Liberia, there have been 21 cases, of which 5 have been confirmed, along with 10 deaths. There have been no confirmed cases yet in Sierra Leone, Ghana or Mali, although Sierra Leone has two "probable" cases. Of Mali's nine suspected cases, the results back so far, from two, have been negative.
"Ebola is clearly a severe disease," Dr. Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General of WHO's Health Security and Environment cluster, told reporters. The virus, one of the world's most lethal, proves fatal in about 90 percent of cases. "But it is also an infection which can be controlled," Fukuda added -- provided the correct public health precautions are taken. Right now, WHO has deployed 50 experts and support staff to the affected areas to help identify, isolate and treat all those who are sick or infected, along with anyone with whom they may have had contact, and to spread correct information about how health workers and the general population can protect themselves.
The focus is not on the size of the outbreak so much as its distribution, stressed Dr Stéphane Hugonnet, a medical officer with WHO's Department of Global Preparedness, Surveillance and Response. While cases have been confirmed across multiple areas, most can be linked to a known transmission chain -- all of the cases in Conakry, Guinea's capital, are connected to one another. "This is rather reassuring," Hugonnet commented, because it means officials should be able to work fast to contain them. Nonetheless, based on past outbreaks of this size, Fukuda said, “We’ll probably continue to see cases for some number of months.”
For now, the focus is on stemming the tide of misinformation that discourages people from seeking treatment -- a major problem in this part of West Africa, which has never before seen an Ebola outbreak, and one of the biggest challenges to containment. “Outbreaks themselves are partly just a disease," Fukuda said, "but they’re also partly the anxiety and fear that they generate.”