A particularly virulent strain of the Ebola virus has broken out in the West African nation of Guinea. Located near lush tropical rainforests, with a myriad of hills and rivers, this small nation is usually a nature-lover’s paradise. However, its proximity to dense forests has also put it at high risk for diseases like Ebola to occur.
Often spread by bats, or by eating contaminated bush meat (which is popular in villages and remote regions of the country) Ebola is easily one of the most feared viruses in the world. Hemorrhagic in nature, it starts with the usual fevers, weakness and chills, but quickly devolves into far deadlier symptoms. This particular strain in Guinea, known as the Zaire strain, kills up to 90 percent of those infected. There is neither a cure, nor a vaccination available for Ebola.
In “The Hot Zone” by Richard Preston, he sums up Ebola graphically, “Ebola Zaire attacks every organ and tissue in the human body except skeletal muscle and bone…Ebola kills a great deal of tissue while the host is still alive. It triggers a creeping, spotty necrosis that spreads through all the internal organs.” Symptoms such as external and internal bleeding from the eyes, nose, mouth and ears have turned Ebola into the stuff of horror movies.
The disease, which was discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976, it is spread by human-to-human contact with blood and bodily fluids. Theoretically, it should be fairly easy to contain with a few safety measures. However, in the cramped quarters of many rural villages, such things aren’t always so easy to control. Furthermore, rural hospitals lack proper medical supplies, often work without protective gear, reuse needles and lack the sanitary equipment necessary to decontaminate their buildings.
MSF (Medicine Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders), a medical charity group, is in the region and has concluded that containing this outbreak might be particularly difficult. According to their spokesperson, the disease has distributed widely throughout the country, and to neighboring Liberia, causing panic.
However, a recent conflicting report, issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), has refuted MSF’s assessment of the situation, saying that it is, “neither an epidemic, nor unprecedented.”
Ebola often spreads quickly, and because of its lethality, kills its hosts faster than it can spread. Because of this, outbreaks usually start fast, and end abruptly, leaving fear and distrust in their wake. However, in the Guinea case, if the disease has spread to numerous areas throughout the country, it is likely to be more difficult to contain. Sierra Leone has also reported suspected cases, although this cannot be confirmed yet.
So far the death toll sits at about 83 people, a number of whom are situated in the city’s capital, Conakry. In Liberia, the total number of infected is unknown, although in the two confirmed cases, one person has already died.
To combat the virus, Guinea has recently outlawed the eating of bat meat and warned those in villages to stay away from rats and monkeys. Although such customs may seem strange in the west, and bush meat often carries with it a number of health hazards, in certain villages it’s the only protein available. Furthermore, for some communities, such as the Kissi, eating bats is a traditional food source that has been used for years.
Still, to stop the devastation of the virus, numerous protections are being put in place. Land borders have closed with some neighboring countries and once vibrant marketplaces that ship in goods from Sierra Leone, Senegal and Liberia are a shadow of their former selves. This downturn in the West African market is likely to continue, until this epidemic can be brought under control.
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