NPR Story
1:14 pm
Tue April 1, 2014

Deadly Ebola Outbreak In Guinea Is Spreading

The Ebola virus has broken out across Guinea and has reportedly spread to other countries in West Africa.

Already more than 80 people have been killed from the hemorrhagic fever which has no vaccine or treatment.

The Zaire Strain of the virus is reportedly contracted from animal to human contact with bats, primates, rodents and some antelopes.

Neighboring country Senegal has closed its borders to Guinea in hopes of keeping the virus out.

Guest

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Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

And Senegal has closed its border with neighboring Guinea because of an outbreak of the Ebola virus in that West African country. Eighty people have died so far, and cases have now been confirmed in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Joining us from Conakry, the capital of Guinea, is Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for World Health Organization. And, Tarik, how serious is this outbreak?

TARIK JASAREVIC: Every Ebola outbreak is a serious event. And we should be treating it as a serious event, because as you may know, Ebola is a highly contagious disease for which we do not have any vaccine or specific treatment. Fatality ratio can be very high, up to 90 percent. And what we have so far here is 65 percent of those who have been possibly infected have died. So it is a serious event.

On the other hand, we have to also stress that we know Ebola. It's not the first time that we are facing it. Ebola was appearing in the last 30 years, in different parts of Central Africa. And we know what measures should be taken, and we also know how people can protect themselves.

HOBSON: And is this strain the same Ebola that we have seen in the past?

JASAREVIC: Yes. This is the Zaire strain. We have seen in the past. It is a very virulent strain. And people get sick fairly fast, and they get very strong symptoms. It starts with vomiting, with muscle pain, with a general weakness. It can go then further on to renal or kidney failure. And quite often, it ends up in a hemorrhage. That's why it's called Ebola hemorrhagic fever.

So, again, it's a very serious disease. But we have dealt with it before, and we are really now focusing on putting in place all those measures, together with the Ministry of Health and other partners, to respond as fast as possible.

HOBSON: Well, is the measure that Senegal has taken to close its border with Guinea, is that a measure that you recommend in dealing with the outbreak of Ebola?

JASAREVIC: At this particular time, World Health Organization is not recommending any travel restrictions. Evidence and experience have shown that the best way to stop the spread of disease across international borders is to have a fast response at its source. So we should really focus now on those measures that are proven. And this basically provides clinical management to people who are infected, disease surveillance in health facilities, but also contact tracing of all those people who may have been in contact with infected people. It's about information, the right information that should go out to the public, also to the health workers so they take the right measures not to get infected.

HOBSON: Well, how concerned are you that it has already traveled beyond international borders, and that there have been cases in both Sierra Leone and Liberia?

JASAREVIC: Well, the first case appeared near the town of Gueckedou. That is a really border town with Liberia and Sierra Leone. So we should not be very much surprised that cases appeared in those two countries. So, again, what we have seen with the travel of people, virus has reached Conakry, the capital. And we are basically looking at the travel history of all these people. And we know that a person has traveled to center of the country for the burial ceremony, and that some people who were with him were coming back to Conakry, and they got infected, and then health workers were infected.

So it's really important to trace back what actually happened, who traveled where, who are the contact people to check on family members. So it is of a concern, because there are six locations now inside Guinea that has cases, and that requires a lot of resources. But, again, we know what measures should be taken.

HOBSON: How common are outbreaks like this in the world?

JASAREVIC: So, there are outbreaks of Ebola occurring every year, also, in different parts of Africa. We had one in 2012 in Uganda, the other one, the same year, in Democratic Republic of Congo. We had smaller ones, as well, before. We had some big ones, as well. So we are seeing it in different parts of Africa, because we know the virus is transmitted basically through animal, through human contact.

And virus is found in animals such as bats, primates, some sort of antelopes, some sort of rodents. And this is the first time to have an Ebola outbreak in Guinea. That's why it is important that we support the Ministry of Health here, because they didn't have it before, and they don't know how to react to it.

HOBSON: Should we be worried at all in the United States?

JASAREVIC: Well, I think everyone should be aware of different viruses that are going on in the world and different outbreaks. And that's why the World Health Organization, we are using something called International Health Regulations to inform the countries about all outbreaks that could travel to all countries around the world.

So I think people should be informed, but we have to really be realistic as well. We have seen these outbreaks, they usually didn't travel too much. People tend to get sick very fast. They don't travel when they are sick. So it's something that, you know, people should know about, but I don't think there should be a big worry.

HOBSON: Tarik Jasarevic is a spokesperson for the World Health Organization, speaking with us about this Ebola outbreak in Guinea. Mr. Jasarevic, thank you so much for joining us.

JASAREVIC: Thank you very much. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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