According to the U.N. Ebola, the nightmarish virus that causes painful, bloody deaths for almost all who are infected, has reared its ugly head in Guinea, but there's some dispute about whether the victims actually have Ebola. According to UNICEF, the disease has killed at least 59 of the 80 people to become infected this month, as it has made its way into the country's capital. "In Guinea, a country with a weak medical infrastructure, an outbreak like this can be devastating," UNICEF representative in Guinea, Dr. Mohamed Ag Ayoya, said in the statement.
However, Guinea's government officials are maintaining that there is no Ebola in Conakry. The number of deaths is not disputed, but according to Sakoba Keita, the health ministry's chief disease prevention officer, samples taken from suspected cases of hemorrhagic fever in Conakry came back negative for Ebola but might be a different virus entirely. For now, the exact cause remains unidentified.
"So for now, there's no Ebola in Conakry, but haemorrhagic fever whose nature remains to be determined," Keita said. Though that isn't really assuring. Keita said there would be more tests on Monday.
UNICEF explained that the virus was first spotted in the country's southern jungles, but has made its way to other parts of the country. "Over the past few days, the deadly haemorrhagic fever has quickly spread from the communities of Macenta, Gueckedou, and Kissidougou to the capital Conakry," UNICEF added in the statement. Macenta is around 440 miles (driving) from Conakry, and has a population of 88,000 or so people. Conakry is home to an estimated 1.5 to 2 million people.
One of the reasons Ebola spread so fast is that it wasn't identified quickly enough, so health workers treating patients became hosts and carriers for the virus. "So far it has killed at least eight health workers who have been in contact with infected patients, hindering the response and threatening normal care in a country already lacking in medical personnel,” UNICEF said. An expert told the BBC that if the virus were identified earlier, officials would have been able to contain its spread.
This is the first outbreak of Ebola seen in West Africa, which has more commonly been found in the central and southern parts of the continent.
Note: An earlier version of this article did not fully reflect the current debate over the exact nature of the virus.