Guinea, a small country on the West coast of Africa, has declared an Ebola epidemic after it has been confirmed that three people died from the disease. The three who died, along with four other people, contracted Ebola after going to a nurse’s burial. Dead bodies of those who have had Ebola can be extremely dangerous, as the virus has an incubation period which can last from two days to three weeks. However, it was not made clear whether or not the nurse in question had the Ebola virus, potentially raising questions about the new outbreak’s origins.
The devastating news comes almost five years after the end of the previous Ebola epidemic, which began in roughly the same area and killed more than 11,000 people. 500,000 vaccines are being stockpiled in a plan announced last month by international health organisations, though the three countries which were most affected by Ebola last time (Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) have a combined population of over 22 million. This has prompted concerns about vaccine manufacturing, as many vaccine manufacturers are currently preoccupied with making COVID-19 vaccines.
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The presence of the virus was confirmed by a lab in Conakry, Guinea’s capital, though some samples tested in a lab set up by the EU in Guékédou were found to contain Ebola as early as Friday. Guinea’s health minister Remy Lamah had previously said they were four deaths, although that number has now been lowered to three with no explanation as to why, and the official number of cases has been given as seven (including the three deaths).
The 2013-16 West African Ebola epidemic proved to be extremely deadly, with a death toll of 11,323. That epidemic is believed to have begun after a child had contact with an insectivorous bat, as colony of Angolan free-tailed bats lived near the child’s village. The origins of the current outbreak are not clear at the moment. Once a human is infected with the virus, it spreads quickly through contact with infected blood or body fluids.
The symptoms the victims experienced consisted of diarrhoea, vomiting, and bleeding, and they have been isolated in treatment centres. The new outbreak is sure to place an increased amount of pressure on Guinea’s health service, which is already having to deal with the pressure of the COVID-19. Guinea is a relatively poor country, with the International Monetary Fund estimating it to be ranked 126th in the world based on GDP, a fact which is sure to pose challenges as the country deals with a pandemic and an epidemic simultaneously.
“The WHO is on full alert and is in contact with the manufacturer [of a vaccine] to ensure the necessary doses are made available as quickly as possible to help fight back,” WHO representative George Ki-Zerbo is quoted by the AFP news agency as having said. Dr Matsidisho Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, tweeted ‘Very concerned by reports of 4 suspected Ebola deaths in Guinea. @WHO is ramping up readiness & response efforts to this potential resurgence of #Ebola in West Africa, a region which suffered so much from Ebola in 2014’.