Guinea faces an Ebola epidemic on an unprecedented scale as it battles to contain confirmed cases now scattered across several locations that are far apart, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said.
The warning from an organization with experience of tackling Ebola in Central Africa comes after Guinea's president appealed for calm as the number of deaths linked to an outbreak on the border with Liberia and Sierra Leone hit 80.
The outbreak of one of the world's most lethal infectious diseases has spooked a number of governments with weak health systems, prompting Senegal to close its border with Guinea and other neighbours to restrict travel and cross-border exchanges.
Figures released overnight by Guinea's health ministry showed that there had been 78 deaths from 122 cases of suspected Ebola since January, up from 70. Of these, there were 22 laboratory-confirmed cases of Ebola, the ministry said.
"We are facing an epidemic of a magnitude never before seen in terms of the distribution of cases in the country," said
Mariano Lugli, coordinator of MSF's project in Conakry.
The organization said it had been involved in nearly all other recent Ebola outbreaks, mostly in remote parts of central
African nations, but Guinea is now fighting to contain the disease in numerous locations, some of which are hundreds of
"This geographical spread is worrisome because it will greatly complicate the tasks of the organizations working to
control the epidemic," Lugli added.
The outbreak of Ebola — which has a fatality rate of up to 90 per cent — has centred around Guinea's southeast. But it took authorities six weeks to identify the disease, allowing it to spread over borders and to more populated areas.
Search for patient's contacts
Up to 400 people are identified as potential Ebola contacts in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, Tarik Jasarevic, spokesman for the U.N.'s World Health Organization (WHO), told Reuters.
"We need find where these people are and check on them," he said.
Cases were last week confirmed in Conakry, bringing the disease, which was previously limited to remote, lightly
populated areas, to the seaside capital of 2 million people.
Liberia has recorded seven suspected and confirmed cases, including four deaths, WHO said.
Sierra Leone has reported five suspected cases, none of which have been confirmed.
If the deaths are all confirmed as Ebola, a disease that leads to vomiting, diarrhea and external bleeding, it would be
the most deadly epidemic since 187 people died in Luebo, in Congo's Kasai Orientale province, in 2007.