CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — Health officials in Guinea on Sunday confirmed that at least three people have died from Ebola there, the first cases declared since it was one of three West African nations to fight the world’s deadliest Ebola epidemic that ended five years ago.
An additional four people are confirmed with Ebola, according to a statement from the ministry of health. All seven positive cases attended the funeral of a nurse in Goueke on Feb. 1 and later showed Ebola symptoms including a fever, diarrhea, vomiting, said the ministry statement.
The government has declared an Ebola epidemic and started contact tracing and isolating suspected cases. It’s also sent an emergency team to support local teams in Goueke and has accelerated the procurement of Ebola vaccines from the World Health Organization.
“I confirm it’s Ebola. The results prove it,” Minister of Health Remy Lamah told The Associated Press by phone.
The patients were tested for Ebola after showing symptoms of hemorrhagic fever and those who came in contact with the sick are already in isolation, said officials.
Guinea’s announcement comes one week after eastern Congo confirmed it also had cases. The cases are not linked.
Health experts in Guinea say these latest cases could be a major setback for the impoverished nation, already battling COVID-19 and which is still recovering from the previous Ebola outbreak, which killed 2,500 in Guinea where it began. More than 11,300 people died in that outbreak which also hit the neighboring countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone between 2014 and 2016.
“The resurgence of Ebola is very concerning for what it could do for the people, the economy, the health infrastructure,” said Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, assistant professor of medicine for infectious diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina, who was the medical director of an Ebola treatment unit in Sierra Leone during the previous outbreak.
“We’re still understanding the repercussions of the (last) outbreak on the population,” she said.
To contain the spread, the government and international health organizations must respond quickly and educate communities about what’s going on, said Kuppalli.
One reason the previous outbreak was so deadly was because the virus wasn’t detected quickly and local authorities and the international community were slow to act when cases first popped up in a rural part of Guinea.
The epidemic’s initial patient, an 18-month-old boy from a small village, was believed to have been infected by bats, but after the case was reported in December 2013, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was weeks before a medical alert was issued and by then the virus had already spread and it took years to end it.
The new cases announced Sunday are in the Nzerekore region, the same place where the previous one started.
After hearing the news, locals in the capital, said they worried the country wouldn’t be able to cope with another outbreak.
“The news about the Ebola outbreak in Guinea is worrying. We already have difficulties dealing with the coronavirus, now, the health system will be overwhelmed by two pandemics,” said Mamadou Kone, a Conakry resident.
“I don’t know what this curse is hitting the Guineans, all the pandemics are falling on us,” said Mariam Konate, a nurse. “It’s like the country has been hit by a curse,” she said.
The origin of the infections is still unknown.
Health experts hope that the availability of an Ebola vaccine will help to quickly control this outbreak. Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids from someone showing Ebola symptoms, or from corpses who were positive.
Last month the World Health Organization said it is creating a global emergency stockpile of about 500,000 doses of the Ebola vaccine to help stamp out future outbreaks, but only 7,000 were available at the time of the statement. The Ebola vaccine being stockpiled is made by Merck.
“There are tools and systems that can be mobilized quickly to address these cases. The key will be speed, ensuring appropriate people and materials are where they need to be,” said Donald Brooks, chief executive officer of Initiative: Eau, a U.S. aid group focused on water and sanitation, who has worked on establishing public health emergency response systems in West Africa.
“If not and it spreads to urban centers, it could result in disastrous loss of life,” he warned.
AP writer Sam Mednick in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso contributed.