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What You Need to Know About the Deadly Virus Spreading Across Western Africa

" ... one of the most virulent diseases known to mankind ..."

Guinea says some of the more than 50 people killed in recent weeks by a viral hemorrhagic fever have tested positive for the Ebola virus.

Ebola was first identified in the Congo in 1976. (Image source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Wikimedia) Ebola was first identified in the Congo in 1976. (Image source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Wikimedia)

Government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara said Sunday the virus was found in tests conducted at a laboratory in Lyon, France. A Health Ministry statement Saturday said 80 cases, including 59 deaths, had been reported mostly in three southern prefectures of Guinea.

Authorities in the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia say they are on high alert, though no confirmed cases had been reported there as of Monday.

Here are some things to know about the deadly virus that has never previously been detected in West Africa.

What is it? 

"The Ebola fever is one of the most virulent diseases known to mankind with a fatality rate up to 90 percent," said Ibrahima Toure, Guinea's country director for the aid group Plan International.

According to the World Health Organization, Ebola hemorrhagic fever was first identified in Africa in the 1970s. The virus spreads though direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids of an infected person or animal.

Early symptoms of the virus include arthritis, chills, diarrhea, fever, headache and nausea, according to the National Institutes of Health. As the virus develops in the infected individual, they will later experience bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose, mouth and rectum, in addition to a rash and other symptoms.

Watch Reuters' report about the disease outbreak:

What's the treatment?

There is no preventative vaccine or specific treatment for Ebola. WHO says the general treatment is supportive therapy, which can include hospitalization and blood transfusions.

The local government in Guinea is encouraging people to frequently wash their hands and avoid contact with sick individuals.

"I usually take a taxi to get to work but in order to avoid contact with strangers, I'm going to walk instead," said Touka Mara, a teacher in Conakry.

Risk of spread

This electron micrograph shows a cell infected with the ebola virus. (Image source: CDC) This electron micrograph shows a cell infected with the Ebola virus. (Image source: CDC)

Dr. Kent Sepkowtiz for the Daily Beast said it is unlikely the virus will spread to the United States.

"The disease simply sickens and kills too quickly, plus anyone in the U.S. with an odd febrile illness and rapid progression to prostration is placed into gown and glove isolation at just about every hospital in the country," Sepkowtiz wrote.

He noted that it wouldn't likely cause a pandemic elsewhere either because it is actually "an easily preventable disease." Countries with underfunded health care systems are more likely to see outbreaks.

"In Guinea, a country with a weak medical infrastructure, an outbreak like this can be devastating," UNICEF representative Dr. Mohamed Ag Ayoya said in the statement, according to CNN.

"Though much talk is focused on the need to generate a vaccine and rid the world of the threat, the next virus will simply come along. Little will actually be solved other than a generation exhaling with self-satisfied relief," Sepkowtiz continued. "Because a new vaccine does nothing to address the root cause for Ebola, Malaria and many other diseases over there, but never over here—the discrepant quality of health care in the world today. Now that is the true healthcare crisis."

Previous Ebola outbreaks were reported in Congo and Uganda in 2012.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Featured image via Shutterstock.

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