(Bloomberg) — Guinea’s health ministry reported five suspected cases of Ebola in the capital, Conakry, as the death toll from the biggest outbreak of the infectious disease in seven years increased to 66.
At least 15 suspected cases of the virus were registered yesterday, including those in Conakry, the ministry said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Authorities have been notified of a total of 103 suspected cases, and there has been one death in the capital, the ministry said. The spread to Conakry, a city of 1.6 million people, represents a “new dynamic” in the outbreak, though the situation is “extremely fluid,” Gregory Hartl, a World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman, said at a briefing in Geneva today.
“Local health authorities will report any number of syndromic cases that resemble Ebola but turn out not to be, so we don’t expect all these cases to end up confirmed,” Hartl said. “On the other hand, there are probably cases out there which we don’t know of yet.”
The outbreak involves the Zaire strain of Ebola, the most common and deadly of the five known varieties, with a mortality rate of as much as 90 percent. The virus is transmitted through contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected person or animal, according to the WHO. Guinea has forbidden the sale and consumption of bats, which may serve as natural reservoirs of the virus, and warned against eating rats and monkeys in its effort to keep the illness from spreading.
In the past, health experts say, most Ebola outbreaks have ended without spreading far, because the patients got very sick very quickly and were not able to travel.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has four people in Guinea and is sending 15 more in an effort to find cases that haven’t been reported, Amanda McClelland, a spokeswoman, said at the briefing in Geneva today.
“The biggest impact of these types of epidemics is really the fear and stigma that’s created,” McClelland said. “We see a number of people hiding, not going to isolation centers, not reporting deaths, rumors starting about government conspiracies.”
A family in Guinea contracted the virus after attending a funeral of a relative who died of the disease, Radio Television Guinenne reported, citing the head of the epidemics prevention division at the health ministry.