New Ebola outbreak declared in Guinea

New Ebola outbreak declared in Guinea
© The World Health Organization/Junior D. Kannah

Health officials in rural Guinea on Sunday said they had identified three cases of the deadly Ebola virus in a small rural community near the epicenter of a previous epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people over a two-year span.

In a statement Sunday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Guinea’s national laboratory had confirmed three cases in the community of Goueke, near the city of N’Zerekore in the country’s interior forest region. The first case occurred in a nurse who died on Jan. 28. Two people who attended the nurse’s funeral have died, and four more have reported Ebola-like symptoms and are hospitalized.

Samples from the confirmed cases have been sent to a laboratory run by the Institut Pasteur, a French lab in Senegal, for genome sequencing. 

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“It’s a huge concern to see the resurgence of Ebola in Guinea, a country which has already suffered so much from the disease,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa. “However, banking on the expertise and experience built during the previous outbreak, health teams in Guinea are on the move to quickly trace the path of the virus and curb further infections.”

N’Zerekore is close to Guinea’s eastern borders with both Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire, and the WHO said health officials in Liberia and Sierra Leone have begun strengthening community surveillance to detect any wider spread of the virus. The WHO has alerted Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Senegal and other regions in the area.

Goueke is only about 100 miles from the tiny village of Meliandou, where in late 2013 a young child became the first known victim of the Ebola virus in an outbreak that eventually spread across borders into neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone. That outbreak eventually infected more than 28,000 people and claimed at least 11,300 lives — though the true toll was likely far higher. 

The United States led a global campaign to stamp out the virus, eventually deploying more than 1,400 health workers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and almost 3,000 troops from the 101st Airborne Division to help build health infrastructure in three of the most impoverished nations on earth.

National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said Sunday the White House "will remain actively engaged in the response to both ongoing Ebola outbreaks and the National Security Council staff and will work to coordinate and support agency efforts, including with CDC, USAID [United States Agency for International Development], and the involved country teams. Leaning forward with a swift response is vital to stop the outbreaks as soon as possible."

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Before that outbreak, Ebola was unknown to western Africa. Instead, it had broken out several times in central African nations such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the virus was first identified in 1976, and in Sudan, Gabon, Uganda and the Republic of the Congo. 

Global health officials are also nervously watching a resurgence of a recent outbreak in an eastern province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a two-year outbreak that ended last year claimed more than 2,200 lives. Congolese health officials reported that at least one woman died last month in the town of Butembo, a troubling sign that the virus may have returned.

Updated at 3:50 p.m.