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Guinea confirms deadly mystery epidemic as Ebola

A mystery illness sweeping through the southern forests of Guinea has been identified as Ebola. There are fears the virus may have been spread across the border into Sierra Leone.

Local experts had not been able to identify the disease, the symptoms of which are diarrhea, vomiting and bleeding, since they were first identified some six weeks ago. However, lab samples were sent to scientists in the French city of Lyon, who confirmed that it was Ebola.

The Guinean health ministry said 80 cases of the disease had been indentified so far with 59 deaths in four prefectures.

"We are overwhelmed in the field, we are fighting against this epidemic with all the means we have at our disposal with the help of our partners but it is difficult. But we will get there," said the Guinean Health Ministry's chief disease prevention officer, Sakobo Keita.

Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it would send reinforcements to help its teams of 24 doctors, nurses and health experts already in Guinea. The organization has set up isolation units in the southern region of Nzerekore and it is searching for people who may have had contact with infected individuals.

MSF also said it was sending some 33 metric tons of medicines, as well as isolation, sanitation and protective equipment.

Fears of cross-border contagion

Neighboring Sierra Leone's chief medical officer, Dr. Brima Kargbo, said authorities in his country were investigating the case of a 14-year-old boy who had died there after returning from the funeral of one of the disease's victims in Guinea. Kargbo said a medical team had been sent to test those who came into contact with the boy before his death.

Ebola is one of the world's most virulent diseases and is so deadly contagions and there are fears it could be used as a biological weapon. It is normally spread through direct contact with bodily fluids and unprotected handling of contaminated corpses.

Testing is necessary to distinguish it from Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever or Lassa Fever, which can have similar symptoms.

There is no treatment or vaccine for Ebola, which can kill anything between 25 and 90 percent of those who fall ill after being contaminated.

rc/kms (AFP, Reuters)